A year ago, Bend’s downtown looked defeated. Shoppers were scarce. Businesses teetered. Some tumbled.
Downtown may not be all the way back. It’s come a long way back. And there are some changes with more dining outside.
Is Bend ready for something more? How about closing off a section of one street in downtown to traffic and making it pedestrian only? A walkable block. A pedestrian mall.
There’s been talk in the past about barring cars along Brooks Street at least from Wetle Way — what many call the breezeway — to Franklin Avenue. More walkable. More inviting. Probably more safe. For deliveries, parking and emergencies, likely more complicated.
That interest has now walked over, if you will, to NW Minnesota Avenue. What if Minnesota became pedestrian only, say between Wall and Bond?
Possibly the same benefits. Possibly the same complications and problems. The Downtown Bend Business Association is talking about doing it.
Before you get too excited or panicked, nothing is going to change soon. It might take years to do. Mindy Aisling, executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association, said it might not be until 2024, if it happens.
If you are going to do it right, it would take money, planning, presumably support from businesses and property owners and formal city approval. There would need to be plants, benches, art and maintenance. First, it would need a design. It could be something special and just the beginning of something that spreads in downtown.
But if you peer over on this page — if you are reading the paper version of this newspaper — one concerned business owner is already airing his serious concerns and reservations. It’s certainly worth reading.
Such a change is also not just a matter for businesses and property owners along Minnesota. It would have spillover effects. The parking would be gone. That might please some. It won’t please others. Drivers would lose another way to move around downtown. That’s not the biggest loss. It is a loss, putting a bit more pressure on other areas. Similarly the impact might ripple to neighboring streets and alleys for deliveries unless some provision was made to allow such traffic during certain hours. Police, fire and other emergency responders will need to be at the forefront of any discussion. What if someone decides to set up a tent home in this new attractive public space? How would that be handled? And why is this stretch the right stretch of street to do it in?
Lots of questions. Lots of issues that would have to be settled. Lots of support that would have to be built. It’s the kind of thing that if you have an opinion or thoughts about, you might want to start trying to influence it now. The downtown business association may bring an initial presentation to the Bend City Council about the idea as soon as June 16. You can email Bend city councilors at firstname.lastname@example.org.