The appearance of a successful person, it has been said, is as important as what may have made the person successful in the first place.
The same can be said of real estate.
There are many people in Madera, for example, who wax nostalgic when they start talking about downtown Madera as it used to be. To listen to some who frequented that area in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, downtown Madera was the epitome of small town America. And at one point, it may have been just that.
But then new shopping centers began to be built west of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, and tenants and their customers began to move into those new quarters, leaving downtown buildings empty.
The new shopping centers were clean, well laid out, spacious and easily accessible by motor vehicles.
Downtown began to look a little dirty and cramped by comparison.
There probably was a point somewhere after the decline began that downtown real estate owners and their tenants could have made a stand, but they chose to either maintain the status quo or move to the new shopping centers, which were meeting the needs of the residents of newly built housing developments.
Downtown Madera remained important, and still is, but not as the retail center of Madera. It is more of a financial center, with banks being the dominant businesses. Downtown also hosts government buildings, including the relatively new headquarters of the Successor Agency of the Madera Redevelopment Agency, the U.S. Post Office, the Social Security building, First 5, social service agencies and the Bergon Center. There are also offices and restaurants.
It is a lively business area overall, one of the best in the city when measured by its retail output.
But it does not look like the old downtown Madera. Its appearance is that of a commercial district in Mexico, which is not surprising because Spanish speakers populate the nearby neighborhoods; and stores to meet their needs, with a few exceptions, are the new tenants in the retail locations.
Some people who remember the old downtown resent that, but the change in appearance has followed the repurposing of the retail buildings. And success has followed those changes.
As many are aware, an effort is under way under the leadership of the Madera County Arts Council and a committee of local leaders to create an arts center near the Madera County Library, which would encompass the former courthouse and former library fronting Yosemite Avenue at G Street, across from Memorial Courthouse Park.
Some have thought that downtown, or part of it, might be included in an expanded cultural which would grow from the arts center.
That would require an entirely new appearance, not to mention remodeled or entirely new buildings.
The new appearance would excite people and draw them to attend art openings and live music and theater performances. Restaurants would benefit from after-theater crowds and from audiences who patronized gallery openings and other arts events.
But this new appearance would have to be very good to attract patrons from out of town, for out-of-town visitors would be needed to provide the cash flow to make the new businesses prosper.
It all couldn’t happen at once.
It’s easy to change one’s appearance by buying a new suit of clothes, or new shoes, or new shirts or jackets, and it’s also reasonable, affordable.
But changing the appearance of a once-beloved neighborhood will take years as designs are created and money is raised.
It also will take entrepreneurs willing to risk their money and energy to make ideas come to fruition.
The Madera County Arts Council and those working with it deserve to be saluted for being willing to move forward with such an ambitious project that is based on more than just improving appearances, but on improving an entire community’s culture.