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City officials and local business owners discussed how to better use older buildings such as the Banner Furniture building to improve the downtown area at an East Central Intergovernmental Association stakeholder meeting this week.

Natalie Conrad/Clinton Herald
Herald Staff Writer

Clinton residents are being asked how they want their city to look in the next 10 to 20 years. This week, officials and economic professionals brainstormed ideas for improving the city’s economic development. Today’s feature showcases the future of the downtown area.

Downtown was once a thriving shopping area.

Today, it’s a place where businesses struggle to hang on, scattered with old underutilized buildings, according to city officials and local business owners gathered to discuss ways to improve the downtown area at an East Central Intergovernmental Association stakeholder meeting this week at the Ericksen Community Center.

Putting more housing in the downtown area, creating a nightlife scene and getting more businesses were discussed as a major ways to improve the area.

“What are we doing to get housing downtown?” Jay Sanders, who co-owns 392 Caffé with Jenna Stuhlman, asked.

Sanders suggested putting in lofts downtown for people with high incomes and putting in some condominiums. Older buildings downtown could be better used by adding apartments above businesses, he said.

Brenda Thornton, owner of Sweetheart Bakery and Homer’s Deli, agreed with Sanders that more housing is needed and said that they need to work on having more of a nightlife scene.

“Whether you’re downtown in Lyons or downtown, we need to have it be not only a place for our businesses from 9 to 5, but a place for nightlife and a place where people want to live,” Thornton said.

Housing and night activities in downtown could also help with another major goal, bringing more young people to the area. Much of the younger population in Clinton go into the Quad Cities for night activities, shopping and eating out, officials said.

“The bars here aren’t suitable for young people,” Mike Kearney said, who manages several buildings downtown. “They don’t have what young people are looking for.”

Chuck Thornton, owner of Sweetheart Bakery and Homer’s Deli, said that people are going to the cities for entertainment, more than anything else.

“You can have a drink anywhere,” Thornton said. “We need more entertainment downtown.”

Utilizing the river and river front area was also brought up as a way to generate more business downtown. Brenda suggested putting more housing along the river and finding a way to use Sawmill Park for more events and possibly even for business or housing some day.

“We should put up more condos,” Chuck said. “We’ve got one of the most beautiful parts of the Mississippi.”

High property tax rates have been an obstacle to economic development, causing many businesses and homeowners to look else where. The problem follows a chicken or the egg scenario, with the only solution being drawing in more development, representatives said.

“It’s nobody’s fault that taxes are high,” Thornton said. “We need to bring in more businesses to split it up. We need more bodies.”

A lack of hotels downtown or near downtown along with under-utilized old buildings has hindered the progress of downtown as well, officials said. City Planner Mark Reynolds suggested turning the Lafayette building back into a hotel. The Armstrong building, Banner Furniture building and Wilson building were discussed as buildings that could be considered for different uses. It was suggested that Ashford expand their campus downtown by using the Wilson building.

Despite the struggles, there are plenty of ways for the downtown to grow and improve, according to Sanders.

“We have so much opportunity here, we just need people who want those opportunities,” Sanders said.

The goal of these stakeholder meetings is to identify goals and objectives in each area as well as solutions to achieve the goals and objectives identified. Meetings were held on several topics including city services, housing, economic development and parks and recreation. On May 3 there will be a communitywide visioning event where the results from the meetings will be presented from 4 to 6 p.m. at Eagle Point Park. City officials, business owners and community leaders are encouraged to attend along with concerned citizens.

Currently the city of Clinton is seeking public comment through a community survey. Paper surveys are available at City Hall, the Ericksen Community Center, main library and the Lyons library branch as well as online at www.ecia.org/clintonsurvey.cfm.

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