The process begun Thursday night to bring about a cultural center in the core of the city deserves cheers and support. The architects, under Paul Halajian, AIA, deserve credit for not coming right out and trying to tell the town what to do. They are trying to involve all those who want to participate.
As expected, it was the downtown portion of the project that received the most attention, even though the cultural arts center planned for Yosemite Avenue and G Street is really the focus of this latest effort at urban renewal for Madera’s city center.
For years, many residents, primarily those living on the west side of the city, have urged government-funded improvements for downtown, based on their own preferences.
Some of those improvements have been made, but most of those suggestions for perceived betterment have only wound up as that — suggestions.
But here is a suggestion that might work: Leave downtown alone and concentrate what money and talent can be applied to building a cultural arts center that will be the envy of every small city in the San Joaquin Valley.
Downtown is the property of many owners, a good share of them absentee landlords, who are happy with things the way they are. Their tenants operate businesses that fill the needs of people who live nearby, not those who live on the west side of town.
Downtown Madera may not be everybody’s cup of tea — or tequila — but it is a vibrant commercial area that generates a lot of the city’s sales taxes and provides an ethnic experience for everything from western wear to food, from fine jewelry to banking services (it’s one of the city’s two financial centers) and offices for professional and social services.
Some people don’t like the colors some of the stores have been painted, but the operators and customers of those stores like them, and that’s what counts.
Leave downtown to its own devices. Build the cultural arts center. Then, downtown may change to accommodate and attract the people who patronize plays, concerts and gallery openings, but only if it works for downtown, its customers, its merchants and its building owners who in the end must pay for any substantive changes.
The focus now should be on the cultural arts center and improvements to Memorial Courthouse Park, which together could make a real difference to the core of this city.