On a downtown...trolley

Day and Ireton are investing more than
just a dollar in the trolley.
I used to have a problem with the proposed downtown redevelopment in Salisbury, Md. There are a ton of reasons ranging from a culture and track record of shortsightedness to a local history of being duped by (or in collusion with) developers looking for short term profits. On the face of it, I'm still not thrilled about all of the particular plans, but I'm starting to come around on the notion that it is both possible and desirable to jumpstart the downtown, mostly because of the people involved.

A New Authenticity

Jim Ireton and Jake Day, the town mayor and council president, respectively, aren't saying anything that hasn't been said before, but they do seem to mean it. During the decade I spent as a reporter I heard a nauseating amount about economic development platitudes from business and community leaders all over the Eastern Shore. Listening to these two speak about the downtown revitalization plan, I got the impression that, if they fail, they will be genuinely disappointed.
Although they don't completely succeed in avoiding cliches when they're speaking, they don't use them comfortably or excessively. The focus tends to be on the possibilities and the real work required. People, it seems, sense that their positive attitudes are genuine and are responding in kind.
Student government members participated in the ribbon
cutting. The town is working to better connect with students.

Taking Students Seriously

One of my greatest frustrations with Salisbury, generally, is its attitude toward the college students at SU. Like people who buy cheap land next to the airport and complain about the noise, the town for decades has seen college students as the unlucky side effect of getting to live near a university. Recently, there has been something of an attitude change, possibly having to do with the number of recent alumni now in business and government locally, or possibly having to do with the fact that the college has made a real move toward retail, restaurant and entertainment self-sufficiency. This last development, the university's self-sufficiency, is the only thing that might hamper the connection between SU and the downtown. With no retail to speak of, and only a few restaurants worth going to in the region, the university undertook constructing it's own city center, encouraging retail and restaurants on campus and instituting a mixed-used development policy that now has students living above all the shops. Even if there remains an element in town disturbed by the notion of college students, there are few who don't want access to the cash they're clearly willing to spend.
The new trolley route will (hopefully) encourage students
to see the downtown as a viable destination.

Gravy Train

Marring the improved attitude to a permanent revitalization and an improved relationship with the student population, the town ad county inaugurated a trolley route specifically to get students from the University to the downtown restaurants and bars. The mere seriousness of the plan was enough to jumpstart a few new downtown restaurants and businesses, if it actually works, there certainly will be more to come. There is a problem of opportunity--there's not a ton of retail space downtown and other structural problems mean that, even with the students, there might be trouble attaining critical mass. But the trolley and the attitude that inspired it, are an excellent first step.
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