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September 2019
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"They" shouldn’t do anything to help downtown Jasper

“They” need to get busy, according to a lot of opinions relating to downtown Jasper.

They need to do something to help businesses downtown, to ease parking, to slow traffic. They need to do something about the trees. They need to get rid of the water park.

Most of all, They need to paint the old blue NAPA building on the corner of Main Street and Highway 53.

In our opinion, They have done enough already, and we’re not being sarcastic.

If, by They, those calling for change in  downtown mean government, we’d argue City Hall has maybe done enough, and now it’s up to private commerce to come through in the clinch.

City streets are in the best condition ever. Parking is not bad, compared to any mall.

Jasper City Hall deserves credit for adding some cultural elements to town. There have been a few setbacks, but work was well-intentioned on the water park and on trees along Main Street. Some trees have not prospered in the sidewalk setting. While The city (through community service workers) takes care of the trees, we still rely on Mother Nature to do her part.

The Bill Sunderland sculpture on the courthouse lawn, placed by the county, adds further to downtown’s ambience. The water park at the north end of town was a home-run idea. A watery feature where kids can play on a unique piece of art was a grand notion. And it came at the right price (mostly free), built by former artist-in-residence Eino and city hall employees.

That the work still draws criticism is unfortunate. Though assessed beauty may depend on the eye of the beholder, beholders should remember the water park sits where a dilapidated building once marked the north end of town. Could the water park look better? Probably. But the park and its sitting area add a nice touch to the downtown streetscape. Often used as a photographer’s backdrop, the park seems appealing enough.

As for the old blue NAPA building: the paint just looks bad. But the building is privately owned and has been long enough in place to stand exempt from even the most rudimentary ordinances on civic appearance. The owner can’t be forced to paint “Big Blue” any more than a reader of this can be asked to paint her own house.

Unfortunately the building (like too many other large buildings downtown) sits empty. We suspect the owner of the old NAPA building, like owners of the former Crust restaurant and the former U. S. Post Office on Highway 53, would love to see them bought, rented, renovated and occupied. Everyone who has an interest in Jasper, whether landlord, business owner, or customer, would love to see new life on Main Street.

The number of buildings on Main with “For Rent” signs in the window is distressing. The situation looks even worse if you include adjacent streets on either side of Main, where far too many commercial spaces stand idle.

It would be great to see shops filled with vibrant, quirky, mom-and-pop retailers or eateries and city hall applying every legal means at its disposal to help prospective tenants swing deals with anxious owners for setting up shop. But we are skeptical that government can solve this problem. Even with financial incentives, we need some brave entrepreneurs willing to take the risk and launch a business here.

Until there are people looking to rent, buy, or re-open, there is little government really can do. We remain confident Jasper is a solid place to do business. Establishments like Jasper Drugs, the Carriage House, and Moore Furniture prove good businesses can prosper here. New businesses will come when venturers see opportunity over-topping risk.

Until then, the most important thing that we (not They) can do is to see that Main Street remains strong by being a regular customer of businesses located there.