OUR VIEW: Main Street needs work to live up to its nameMitchell finds itself splitting in various directions and at the expense of its inner core.
At what point is Main Street no longer a city’s main street?
Saturday, The Daily Republic reported how the business district on the south side of Interstate 90 has contributed to the division of Mitchell, a city that finds itself splitting in various directions and at the expense of its inner core.
When the railroad passed this way in the 19th century, buildings sprung up around it. Hotels, restaurants and warehouses quickly were erected nearby. In the early- and mid-20th century, Main Street was like a Norman Rockwell print. Doctors, dentists and large retailers dominated the landscape.
But that really isn’t happening anymore. Today, Mitchell is expanding outward, and especially near Interstate 90. That neighborhood didn’t exist 15 years ago, but last year it accounted for 45 percent of Mitchell’s retail trade and 31 percent of all taxable sales in the city. By comparison, Mitchell’s historic downtown business district accounted for less than 5 percent of Mitchell’s taxable sales.
Fifty years ago, Main Street literally was Mitchell’s main street. But then the interstate came, and although it took some 35 years before expansion exploded along it, Pandora’s box has been opened.
What will Main Street look like five decades from today? Without work, its outlook isn’t good.
The buildings are old and some are in great need of repair. Twice in the last year, pieces of downtown buildings have fallen.
Doctors and dentists no longer work from Main Street offices. Apartments are being built along the city’s edges, drawing more people away from the core.
Although some stores that now do business on Main Street are viable — and valuable — we don’t foresee many new, large businesses coming to the neighborhood.
A real problem is looming, and it’s one that won’t fix itself. It’s impossible to expect current downtown business owners, most of whom are small retailers and niche store operators, to invest the kind of money that will be required to rejuvenate Main Street.
To truly address the problem could require some sort of public funding, from state or city grants or loans. It may require a BID — Business Improvement District — in which willing property owners can self-impose a small tax to raise money for downtown improvements. Rapid City leaders used a BID to create their Main Street Square, a previously unremarkable downtown area that was redeveloped into a vibrant community gathering place and shopping area.
Without work and visionary thinking, Main Street won’t ever again be our main street. Today, that honor increasingly belongs to I-90.
The I-90 district offers work, retail, education, banking and nightlife. It’s all right there, and one could live there for months without ever crossing the four-lane highway.
Yet the I-90 area will never offer the historic, walkable, nostalgia-filled experience that downtown Mitchell could offer to shoppers and apartment dwellers.
Are there visionaries in Mitchell who could make our Main Street a true main street again? We hope so.