A supporting role

Published 4:54 pm Saturday, August 4, 2007

By Staff
The effort to renovate and restore the Turnage Theaters complex is a big project. The effort to give Ayers Lane a makeover is a small project. Each holds a promise for downtown Washington.
As important as opening a rehabilitated Turnage complex is to the city and region, a much-improved alley is important, too. That alley project should signal the beginning of the effort to improve all of the pedestrian connectors in downtown Washington. Those improved alleys could serve as a catalyst for other improvement projects throughout the city, not just in its central business district.
The more small projects the city, Downtown Washington on the Waterfront and other groups with interests in making downtown better, the more faith the public will have in larger projects coming to fruition. Small projects have their place in the overall scheme to improve downtown and other areas in the city.
Ayers Lane, an alley that leads people from the parking lot behind the Turnage complex to its front doors, complements the Turnage restoration project. Having all the alleys improved will complement the entire downtown area.
City officials view the reclaimed Ayers Lane as a prototype for other downtown alleys. They also see the project as something that can be accomplished rather quickly to show the city is serious about downtown redevelopment while other, more long-term projects work their way to completion.
The city appears to be committed to improving the alleys. This spring, the City Council awarded a $44,200 contract to Washington-based Landscaping Unlimited to do the Ayers Lane improvement project. But it took some time before the project got under way.
Disagreement surfaced between Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association representatives and Downtown Washington on the Waterfront representatives on how to best proceed with the alley project. A little more than a year ago, the merchants group had been striving to begin work on the alley as soon as possible. DWOW wanted to hold off on alley work until its downtown revitalization strategy, prepared by the W.K. Dickson Co., was reviewed by the city and given its blessing.
The merchants group had been considering using local artists to paint murals on the sides of the buildings that abut Ayers Lane. The group has been pushing for downtown’s “pedestrian corridors” to be spruced up in an effort to make downtown more visually appealing.
But when representatives from those two groups took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for the Ayers Lane project last week, that may have been an indication that there’s a spirit of cooperation, to some degree, being shared by those two groups. When there is no question that a project is good for downtown, all groups that have interests in downtown should work together to make that project happen.
It would be nice to have the Ayers Lane project become a pathway that leads to understanding and cooperation among those who have interests in seeing the city’s central business district improve its health and looks.
A downtown that’s healthy and looks good will attract projects and growth that are healthy and attractive.
A project like the restoration of the Turnage complex may be a headliner, but projects like the Ayers Lane upgrade have roles as supporting actors in the production that is downtown revitalization.