Indeed, there is outdoor dining for two or three restaurants on South King Street due to the wider sidewalk that Leesburg taxpayers spent $1 million to construct, but there has been no evidence yet of it being “a gathering space” as Michael O’Connor touted in your June 16 article “Historic downtown confronts the new city.”
There is still $900,000 sitting in the town’s capital program to build the same boondoggle on North King Street, although probably only one restaurant would utilize it for outdoor dining. In addition, the council is poised to spend $300,000 on a “water feature” at the town garage on Loudoun Street, also on a wing and prayer it may bring more people to our historic downtown.
Mr. O’Connor, who owns at least three buildings fronting King Street, and some other landowners, were the prime beneficiaries of this wider sidewalk, yet did not pay commensurate to the amount they would benefit in new customers and higher real estate values.
A much less expensive and more equitable option would have been to have prefabricated “parklets” that could have been placed in the parking space directly in front of the business that wanted it. As you can see from the photo of the wooden one in Lexington, Mass., it allows for outdoor dining in front of businesses that want them – and allows for it to be rented by that business, not paid by all taxpayers.
Town staff presented to the town council during the 2013 controversy examples of “parklets” that were made of brick and blended into our sidewalks much better. However, this option was ignored due to a politically influential group of businesses and residents that wanted the entire sidewalk widened.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Rick’s and Crème-de-la-Crème have closed – in large part due to the lack of “feet on the street” but also insufficient parking. And the council has done nothing to replace the 20 spaces lost on South King Street due to the wider sidewalk.
Putting more “feet on the street” was the message from the town/business joint study by the Urban Land Institute in 2007. But some on council are too fixated on sidewalks and streetscape, while ignoring the major impediments to downtown business viability – not enough parking where needed, not enough of a retail mix and probably most important, not enough of a clientele for businesses due to the over reliance on the county and town governments and courts.
It is my hope in this coming council campaign that we can discuss better options for improving our downtown and not spend any more on wider sidewalks and streetscape.