Work is finally under way on the long-awaited downtown renovation project in Bountiful, but whether it will bring the economic rebirth officials hope for is a question that only time will answer.
The city is gambling that a $1.5 million project to install a new street, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and landscaping will provide an incentive for new businesses to locate in the area. Officials also hope to create a cultural rejuvenation by eventually moving the Bountiful/Davis Arts Center into the old Stoker Elementary in the area. While the city owns the building, it will likely be a few years before that move is realized.In the meantime, officials are hoping the new look on downtown Main Street will provide incentive for economic redevelopment.
A key to that effort has hit stumbling blocks in recent months. Working through the city's Redevelopment Agency, efforts have been under way to attract a developer for a major construction project on the west side of Main between Center Street and First South. Last year, the city announced an agreement with Collier Development to handle that project, and preliminary plans for a five-story retail/office complex were announced. Redevelopment director Randy Sant said that project is dead and his agency is again seeking a developer for the agency-owned land.
Should that effort fail, the agency is looking at contingency plans to help area businesses make improvements that would stimulate economic activity.
One local merchant, Lois Pickett, said she is concerned whether merchants presently located in the downtown area can weather the combined storms of three months of construction and reduced parking. She said it will take time for the public to become aware of new off-street parking lots and become convinced that they are handy enough to the existing businesses to be worthwhile. That conversion time is likely to be longer than some businesses can withstand and she fully expects to see some merchants close their doors or move to other locations.
Pickett said she also has reservations about city hopes to attract major new businesses downtown. She said if that can happen in the next few months, the prospects for keeping existing businesses open will dramatically increase. "I wonder, though, whether these improvements are really what it will take to interest other businesses to locate here."
Construction has begun and the improvements will be reality. The question now is whether dreams and aspirations for the downtown rejuvenation can be translated into the same reality. While city officials are confident that dreams can come true, area merchants are a little less optimistic. However, the pessimism of past years does appear to be waning.