Two-way River Street ‘silver bullet’ not the answer

To the Editor:

I refer to your guest editorial of Feb. 13, 2013.

What feature of our community gets more conversation, committee study and newsprint ink than River Street traffic flow and how it affects retail sales and tourism? Not many, is my guess. You can depend on it coming around every five or ten years. It’s viewed as the silver bullet that ends the downtown’s malaise.

I would suggest the casual tourist and the direction of traffic on River Street has less influence on the vibrancy of downtown than, say, filled storefronts and strong merchandise mix. With this achieved, shoppers would overcome moderate obstacles, if any, for the opportunity to lay their money down.

Downtown destinations fill the wants of the consumer in contrast to box stores that fill her needs. If a downtown with a strong merchandise mix, differentiated from box stores, that is located in a market with discretionary income, it should naturally do well.

But Manistee’s market is usually a statistical laggard in discretionary income. Its base market, as well as its secondary home market does not compare favorably. Harbor Village was a good start in this regard. More residential and commercial development would be a big plus, not to mention an improved general economy.

This makes the tourist even more important. The eight to ten weeks of his presence is very important and can mean the difference between profit and breaking even…or worse. But again, the tourist visits for a reason. His main want is not to shop — think of all the reasons to visit Manistee — but his presence assures he will.

What could the tourist with other destinations on his itinerary possibly experience at the corner of Cypress and River streets to make him turn west? It’s probably not the lure of an interesting merchandise mix. The casual tourist is passing through whether he detours down River Street or stays on the highway. He is of low commercial value and at best a recruit for the future when Manistee can be his destination.

Turning west would also not be induced by the enticement of a two way River Street. Traffic flow is mostly a management tool, not an incentive. When too many tourists are the problem, improving signs, traffic flow and parking become a consideration. Figuring ways to “capture” visitors at our front door is best delayed until addressing basics is more successful.

All this is not to say that logical traffic flow and signage is not an important part of a successful downtown. But, to create street chaos where little exists for the unproven attraction and benefit of tourists during their short visit seems a bridge too far, especially for everyone else 52 weeks of the year.

We should be pleased for having a DDA and all the improvements it has made. It would serve better, however, by expending its efforts on economic development with a higher rate of return than changing River Street traffic flow.

Development is hard. Silver bullets are easy.

Dennis terHorst

Manistee

Leave a Reply