Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Column 148 – Town Center

Aside from the occasional brain spasm by IVGID Trustees, things are notably good here in IV/CB. We can feel the effects of the economic crisis, but arguably not as acutely as they're being felt in other places. Non-profits are certainly feeling it – donations are down sharply, but those fundraising efforts that really matter seem to be holding up. The IHS Boosters crab feed was a success, Project Mana is still able to help people who need food, and local businesses are even pitching in with discounts for people bringing in canned goods that then go to Project Mana.

Even Nature seems to be pitching in. the March snows should go a long way toward saving the winter tourist season, and who knows, we may even be able to launch boats this summer.

The Boulder Bay Project debate has been remarkably civilized and the folks who are promoting the project are going out of their way to listen to those with concerns and reservations. In short, they're acting like real members of the community. Now news reports have indicated that another major development may be in the offing. The "old" (K-2) elementary school on Southwood will be closing soon, and there is starting to be discussion of possibilities for developing that plot, possibly along with the site of the Village Center, though I don't think anyone has asked the tenants of the Village Center how they feel about that. IVGID is being proactive in getting involved in any plans for the school site, and others including my alternate-week colleague Andy Whyman and developer Vince Scott have been looking at possibilities ranging from recreational use, housing, eldercare facilities, and public facilities have been floated. Even more encouragingly, Scott and others have prominently mentioned "green" building as integral to their plans.

In TRPA's Pathways 2007 planning and our own Incline Vision meetings, the notion of a center for the village in the area of the school site and Village Center came up repeatedly. I've lived here for over thirteen years and came here for years before that, and can remember the sense, when I first came here, of there being no "here" here (to steal from Gertrude Stein). IV/CB really has no community center of gravity – we have the Raley's Center, Christmas Tree Village, the Village Center, and the Hyatt/Country Club Center, but none of these provide what I remember "downtown" providing in the small town where I grew up – not so much a commercial center as a place to come together. I can remember on Friday nights, during the Christmas shopping season, and on Sunday afternoons you would run into people you knew downtown. In the first two cases the stores were open late, but on Sundays it was more a matter of the movie matinees, and people going for walks, and generally knowing that downtown was a place you'd see people and have an opportunity to socialize without having to entertain or plan.

I think, and people in the TRPA and Incline planning workshops seemed to largely agree, that we need something like the downtown I remember. Not the glitzy "ski village" that you find at places like Northstar, Squaw, Whistler, Aspen, and Vail – that sort of place isn't for families and residents but rather for tourists. Rather, something more like the idealized "Main Street" of Disney World – small shops, eating places, parks, and walking paths where we can go to be together, talk, and generally be a community.

This being Incline, some will disagree. Any move for change here runs up against those who want things to be as they were 20 or 40 years ago, but that's not going to happen. It seems to me that we have three choices – become a destination resort like Aspen or Whistler, which I don't think anyone wants, remain an aging community where half or so of the residents are here part-time, or be a real community with a diversity of ages, incomes, etc. In order to do the last one, we will need to create the things a community needs – facilities for old and young, opportunities for all, and places to go that accommodate a range of incomes. A town center would be a step in the right direction.

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