ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DALE SUDERMAN
Downtown Hillsboro appears to be getting a little quiet. Soon the primary attraction will be sitting at Main and Grand and watching the traffic signal changing from green to red.
The problem is that downtown is the victim of Hillsboro’s overall success. In this neatly laid-out city, highway traffic has been diverted to a new route. The industrial park, the public schools, the college, recreational areas, and even retirees and health systems are enclosed neatly in their own campus-like atmospheres.
This leaves Main Street with the same problem as the state of Kansas. To be at the center of everything is also to be the furthest point from everything.
The poet Gertrude Stein commenting on Los Angeles-a city also with no center-once said, “There is no there There.”
Believe it or not, downtown Chicago once also faced the risk of decline. Let me pass on some helpful hints from the Chicago experience for downtown Hillsboro.
One option is to create a modern, high-tech look to attract new business and industry. Paint windows on the grain elevator to make it look like a skyscraper and hang a couple of satellite dishes on the water tower, and pretend the city is a dot.com center.
I’d be cautious about this-dot.coms aren’t doing much better than the grain market.
The better option is to increase traffic on Main Street. This is a simple, low-cost project. Just put up detour signs on all the highways, and route the traffic from U.S. Highway 56, Indigo Road and the old highway through Main Street.
Justify the detour by hand-digging a sewer line very slowly for three or four years across the roads. This will get folks in the habit of going downtown.
I’ll admit that stage two of this plan might seem a bit counter-intuitive. Buy 500 broken-down Chicago parking meters and put them on Main Street and on surrounding streets. Set them all permanently to show they have 90 minutes of parking left. Travelers-and even locals-love free stuff.
“Look Martha, this meter has 90 minutes left free on it. Let’s stay and get lunch-we got a deal!”
Stage three: Chicago has put street planters filled with trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses in even the busiest thoroughfares. Hillsboro could one-up this by planting native grasses from curb to curb in most of the city.
The result would make towns like Cassody and Matfield Green look like asphalt jungles. With a little deft persuasion, the city council could probably persuade the government to make these CWT acres. Designate the streets that flood “wetlands.” Get a little Department of Agriculture money into the city budget.
All they need to do is point out that they haven’t been able to get a decent wheat crop on Main and grand for a hundred years.
Let the grass grow tall enough and mature and you might have a short hunting season around Halloween. (This would keep the NRA boys happy.)
Stage four: Tourists love to eat outside so they can battle bugs, dirt and sun while eating. They will pay extra for this. (Evidence: Watch them eat exotic wienies at the Arts and Crafts Fair even while sitting on a curb.)
So to attract more tourists, insist that all restaurants and fast-food places have outdoor dining.
Finally, the city council needs to make the Adobe House more interactive. Put up an electric fence around the golf course, Memorial Park, the baseball diamonds and the airport and run about four hundred head of Texas Longhorn cattle with a feeding trough at the Adobe House. Tell visitors this was the trailhead of the old Chisholm Trail.
City folks love animals. Imagine how this would add a new dimension-dodging 1,200-pound steers-to golf, picnics, landing small planes and Little League baseball.
Finally, tourists love colorful locals. The problem with Hillsboro is the “locals” are neatly dressed, nice and normal people.
It would be too difficult to require local folks to wear wooden shoes to re-create the Dutch heritage.
For a small fee, I would be willing to return as the village idiot-or the town Democrat (a role in small-town Kansas often filled by the same person)-and stand at a corner and wave at cars passing by and then make nonsensical noises as tourists stop to take my picture.