Madison's downtown development task force should take a look at the conversation Yankton reporter Nathan Johnson and entrepreneur Ben Hanten are promoting in Yankton. On his blog An Inland Voyage, Nathan Johnson has published three posts this week on great ideas for boosting economic and cultural activity in Yankton's lovely downtown.
First, Johnson spotlights South Dakota-obsessed British author Fraser Harrison's suggestion to build on the attraction of the Meridian Bridge by revamping its already beautiful riverfront to draw more business:
My suggestion would be to commission a report from a consultant with the relevant experience into the possibility of developing the entire riverfront from the new bridge east to the empty land beyond The Landing, including the five blocks that lie behind and their great old industrial buildings that are just crying out to be utilized.
The plan should embrace in a single vision hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, wine bars (The Landing is a great model), stores and so forth – all places to tempt visitors to come and enjoy themselves and spend their money.
The riverside strip of park is already very attractive, with its kiosks and picnic areas and the territorial capitol house, and I think that style should be perpetuated in the new development, in that it should have plenty of walking spaces, sitting spaces, spaces for small-scale street entertainment (in the summer obviously), spaces for outdoor vendors, and so forth. And what better to complete this resort than my replica river paddleboat, a floating destination in itself? [Fraser Harrison, quoted by Nathan Johnson, "The Ravings Of An Outsider? Thoughts On The Development Of Yankton’s Riverfront," An Inland Voyage, 2013.06.19]
In his next post, Johnson excerpts numerous local suggestions for downtown development generated in a Facebook discussion started by Ben Hanten. Among the ideas from his fellow Yanktonians:
- support development downtown instead of out on the north edge on empty, undeveloped space
- extend recreational trails
- turn the riverfront water plant into an interactive educational center
- develop better housing and higher-paying jobs (the writer contends those basic factors are the real draws to any town; good houses and good wages provide the basic market support for local retail and entertainment)
- build a restaurant on top of the Meridian Bridge (holy cow! Winnipeg has Chez Sophie, an Alsatian-French restaurant, on top of the Esplanade Riel; Wikipedia says the Esplanade Riel is "the only bridge with a restaurant in North America." Opportunity knocks!)
- build a farmers market shelter by the river
Johnson follows up with a separate post dedicated to ideas for the new water plant that Yankton needs. Johnson cites beautiful examples of water plants designed to include public parks, educational facilities, and even a ski slope.
There's no way of telling whether the ideas unearthed by Johnson's and Hanten's conversations will influence Yankton's decision-makers. And porting those ideas to Madison and other towns in need of downtown development won't work perfectly; after all, Madison lacks a stunning downtown riverfront and bridge (wait a minute: how about a restaurant on top of the new water tower?).
But I'm always thrilled to see citizens use the Web to have serious conversations about making their communities better. Mayors, planners, local booster, read Johnson's blog posts and join that conversation!