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Our View: About those vacant buildings

Is it just irony, or is it appropriate that Tsunami Landing could once again become a symbol of hope for downtown Crescent City?

After the sudden devastation of 1964, the construction of a covered walkway linking downtown properties and bearing the name of the disaster that inspired it seemed the perfect icon for “Comeback Town, USA.”

Nearly a half-century later, its demolition could — make that should — be the catalyst for positive change in the city’s core area.

That it outlived its usefulness is beyond debate. It has rotted into an eyesore that will eventually crumble to the ground with or without assistance. The City Council quite properly voted this week to pursue its removal at an anticipated cost of about $150,000 — probably far less than paying off a single liability claim if part of the landing were to land on somebody.

We encourage the city to move as quickly as possible to accomplish the task while Redevelopment Agency money is still available — the state has gotten into a bad habit of co-opting local RDA funds, and Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed doing away with the state-funded agencies as a cost-cutting move. If the money is there now, use it.

Just tearing something down doesn’t guarantee a fresh start for efforts to revitalize downtown, but it would demonstrate a good-faith effort on the part of the city. After that, the impetus would be on the people who own downtown property to reassess how they’re using their assets.

If a building has been sitting vacant for years, isn’t it high time for its owner to re-evaluate market conditions and do what it takes to make that property functional again? Multiply such re-evaluation by the number of long-term vacancies downtown, and you’d have quite a brainstorm washing over Crescent City.

City Hall’s work won’t be done when it takes down Tsunami Landing. It needs to partner with property owners to address whatever obstacles stymie good-faith efforts to make these buildings viable enterprises again. If bureaucratic red tape is an issue, cut it. If zoning laws are roadblocks, change them. And finally, if a property owner simply refuses to do anything with his or her downtown building and it’s in an obvious state of disrepair, declare it a public nuisance and force the issue.

Downtown Crescent City isn’t struggling because of the lingering effects of a long-ago catastrophe, or because of the arguably ill-advised construction of Tsunami Landing. We are a microcosm of what has transpired in so many American cities, big and small. The shopping centers moved to outlying areas, leaving downtowns to the offices, a few specialty stores, and the resulting vacant buildings.

In some of those cities, downtowns were reshaped to regain vibrancy. In others, they still languish. We’re not unique, although the spread-out nature of Crescent City with its downtown removed from both its harbor and its highway corridor does present challenges that not all coastal communities share. It can all be disheartening, and sometimes those who try to rally the troops become targets, an example being the debate over whether we want to continue downtown’s Business Improvement District.

Can our downtown thrive again? There are signs to the affirmative. Where property and business owners have put out the effort, people do stop to shop or dine. Check out Tomasini’s Enoteca when a band is playing and you’ll swear you’ve happened upon a town with a nightlife — the kind you won’t be afraid of.

It’s not that all those vacant buildings need to fill up with shops and restaurants. If they fill up with anything appropriate, more people will work downtown, and the amenities appealing to them and to visitors will follow.

All those reminders to shop local are appropriate, but charity won’t save downtown. A pervasive new sense of responsibility and activism on the part of its property owners might. They need to take up the cause as the city takes down the landing.



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