Longtimers know how to make downtown viable

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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A Downtown Strategic Plan Task Force, an offshoot of the city’s $30,000 Gruen Gruen + Associates study of downtown Lincoln, is now forming committees to make downtown Lincoln a destination. I’m glad that the city wants downtown to be fun. Cities depend on a lively downtown to attract and keep residents. Steve Art, the city of Lincoln’s economic and redevelopment manager, didn’t have a date this week for when the task force would have ideas in place for a revitalized downtown. The downtown rebirth could be a lot quicker if city officials talk to some of our longtime residents who have helped make Lincoln a friendly city. These community leaders have the information the committees will be defining for weeks to come. Residents such as Shirley Russell, the Lincoln Area Archives Museum’s volunteer executive director and Friends of Lincoln Library extraordinaire. I like Shirley’s idea of a downtown Lincoln. In her vision, the Carnegie Library’s courtyard is the springboard to multiple downtown educational and cultural events. She uses the annual Books in the Courtyard event as an example. The event provides free books to preschoolers, grade school students and pregnant mothers. “Just look at what happens one day a week during Books in the Courtyard. Over 400 books a day on some weeks,” Russell said. “Downtown businesses could support the event by having Books in the Courtyard specials. The moms, pops, caregivers are here so make it an entire Lincoln event.” But the event doesn’t have to be contained to only the library. “The chamber could host something around Beermann Plaza’s fountain, Lincoln Arts could have displays of children’s work in June, a special ice cream day or cookies at local shops, the Lincoln Area Archives Museum could pick up on the theme. The list goes on and on,” Shirley said. The Lincoln Area Archives Museum is run by volunteers preserving Lincoln’s 150-year-plus history. The museum on 472 E St., across the street from the library, has stacks of old Lincoln photographs and city records, artifacts and information on families here in Lincoln for more than 100 years. The Carnegie Library has been open at 590 Fifth St. in Lincoln since 1909. Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated funds for opening the library, residents matched that money and the bricks were donated by Gladding, McBean. “Hold special student projects with half the class at the Carnegie for library introduction as well as a bit of history and an art program, and half the class at the Archives Museum for hands-on history and art projects, then switch, spending several hours downtown,” Russell said. “Welcome the kids to a friendly Lincoln. Hand out coupons for adults to return to downtown Lincoln.” Russell, a retired elementary school teacher, grew up in Lincoln and raised her family here. She has fond memories of when downtown activities such as folk dancing, the annual Fireman’s Ball, dance club and plays took over the Civic Auditorium. “Build upon what we have and work together for an exciting downtown,” Russell suggested. “There was gold, copper, pyrite, granite, coal, clay and all that came with their discoveries. I could go on and on about Lincoln’s past. Lincoln has a rich history and that history can be a draw to the city. Using the offerings of Lincoln Area Archives Museum, the Carnegie, The Place! and Lincoln Arts, would be, in my opinion, a big step forward to attract tourists.” Jean Cross, one of three partners at The Place! on Fifth and G streets, has a similar downtown vision. “I would love to see Lincoln become a destination point, not only for tourists but for residents enjoying our downtown, looking around at stores, having lunch,” Jean said. “Lincoln has a great historical ambiance. I would love to see some sidewalk cafes, love to see more events downtown, love to see more galleries, gift shops, just like you’d find in old town Pleasanton, Carmel and Napa.” Jean was successful in four months of campaigning, starting in July, for The Place! and historical downtown to be designated a “unique shop” for the Sierra Nevada Geotourism map. Lincoln being accepted last week to the online map means that visitors from all over the world will learn about why they should see Lincoln, according to Jean. “It’s providing information for people who want to know about the area, more than ‘how many hotels and restaurants we have,’” Jean said. “Shirley Russell, Jeff Greenberg and I went to a meeting in Auburn in August at the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. I told them I put the nomination in for The Place! and Lincoln because I’m passionate about Lincoln’s history. Someone said Lincoln’s not included because the map is for the foothills.” But Jean didn’t like that answer. Her response was, “What’s more historic than Gladding, Mcbean? It’s been here longer than most places.” After being told by the conservancy group “to pump up” her nomination form, Jean said, she added history from the just-revised Lincoln walking tour booklet and added photographs she restored from the Lincoln Area Archives Museum of 1909-and-earilier buildings occupied by today’s businesses. The annual Feats of Clay fundraiser at Gladding, McBean, was also accepted to the map, according to Jean. “I grew up in Southern California in a town started in 1964 so there was no sense of history,” Jean said. “I love the history of Lincoln and being involved with Gladding, McBean as a sculptor on and off for seven years. I love the history and the fact that it’s worldwide.” Jean says residents should help downtown. “We are the city. It’s not just a government thing. Pick up paper on the street, volunteer for anything, to do cleanup downtown, volunteer to work for an hour in places that need extra help,” Jean said. “Volunteer at the library, at the chamber, wherever. Go online to Geotour and give us a thumbs up. The more thumbs up shows popularity and it’s very positive to people out of the area.” To liven up downtown, Jane Tahti, whose family owns the Fleming Building on Fifth and G streets and whose great-great grandparents settled here in the 1860s, had both quick and long-term fixes. Jane suggested adding trees in pots and decorative lighting for quick fixes and also attracting specialty food stores and restaurants for long-term fixes. “I think the businesses are doing what they can. I don’t know what else they can do without money going through the system. Downtown’s main appeal is they’re not competing with Wal-Mart or Target, they’re an old-town experience,” Jane said, “Being downtown is a walk around the sidewalks and browsing, and not a walk through aisles.” Jane also suggests beautifying the alley between 5th and 6th streets with plants and lighting so that it becomes a “walking alley” while leaving space for store deliveries and parking. “People would gravitate there. It could resemble an alley like those in Europe,” Jane said. Jane has nice memories of downtown Lincoln throughout all the decades, when there were markets and “we all shopped along those streets.” “Our Fleming family held on to the corner, from the karate shop around to the Old Carousel. We love those buildings. We’ve tried to keep them for small businesses,” Jane added. And small businesses and community events are priorities to our downtown’s health. Just ask those who have lived here for years. Carol Feineman can be reached at