by David Stanowski
17 March 2008
It was most encouraging to read, in the 13 March 2008, City Manager's Report (page 4) that the City has put a "comprehensive plan for downtown" on the agenda. However, after attending the presentation, by Nore Winter, last Friday, I am concerned as to where this plan may already be heading. Is Winter & Company auditioning for the job of designing this plan, or has the City already made some kind of a commitment to them? It is critical that alternatives to Winter & Company should be considered.
I presented my findings on how to revitalize the downtown economy in Downtown Galveston: Under New Management.The emphasis of this article was on economic revitalization. My research, on this topic, kept leading me to one source; Robert Gibbs of Gibbs Planning Group.
His background is in the retail business, as well as helping restaurants, bars and night clubs. When you read about his work, you read his views on how to maximize the income from these businesses, while preserving historical structures.
The thing that I like the most about Gibbs is that he realizes that for historic downtowns to be successful, they must be guided by retail experts, and NOT by urban planners, or historic preservation architects. Those professionals can certainly preserve these areas, and make them look good, but they often make changes that greatly hinder the flow of commerce, in the district. First and foremost, Gibbs understands that without profits, downtowns will not survive no matter how good they look!
My impression from Nore Winter's presentation is that Winter & Company is probably one of the urban planning groups that Gibbs warned about. A visit to their web site to examine their recent presentations and publications seems to confirm this conclusion.
The titles of their presentations and publications revolve around the words "preservation", "planning", and "design". In contrast, article titles about Gibbs often contain the words "retail", "shopping", "stores", "downtown", "mall", and "shopping center". Winter & Company appears to be primarily focused on planning and preservation, while the Gibbs Planning Group is more focused on commerce.
I'm sure that Winter & Company are very fine urban planners, but it is imperative that the City Council understands that what downtown Galveston needs, to revitalize its economy, is an expert in the retail, restaurant, and bar & night club businesses. Therefore, I strongly urge the City Council to contact Robert Gibbs, and ask him to give them a presentation on what he can do for the City, as soon as possible.
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