Good news for downtown Silver City — if you can find
a place to park.
Downtown Silver City, blighted too long by empty storefronts, will get a major boost from the long-awaited renovation and reopening of the Murray Hotel. (We originally reported on the ambitious project way back in October 2006.) Another shot in the arm may come from the recent purchase of the group of buildings including Tune Town by the owners of the popular Pink Store in Palomas. A Silver City-style Pink Store, if that's the plan, could fill a longstanding void downtown as a place for tourists to shop for souvenirs and soak up a little local culture.
As we pondered these positive developments, however, a question popped to mind: Where the heck will these downtown visitors park?
This question was made more pointed by our experiences at the beginning of last month, jouncing through several downtown parking lots and searching for street parking while delivering Desert Exposure. You'd never know there was a recession from the streets of downtown Silver City.
Alex Brown, the town manager, says parking isn't just a challenge for shoppers, diners and hotel guests. "We have that problem ourselves at City Hall, for employees and our customers," he says. "It's an ongoing struggle."
Fortunately, Brown tells us, the folks behind the Murray Hotel's rebirth thought ahead and have purchased property behind the old Gila Theatre for guest parking. Combined with additional parking off Spring Street, he believes that will solve most of the (happy) problem of additional hotel guests downtown.
The town is also looking at improving drainage on the "Main Street Plaza" lot between Bullard Street and the Big Ditch, where the Silver City Farmers' Market operates seasonally on Saturdays. Brown adds that the town is looking for funding sources to eventually pave that lot.
The lot on the other side of Bullard, between Thunder Creek and Morning Star, is privately owned, he notes.
The large visitor center parking lot off Hudson Street is actually surprisingly convenient for downtown patrons, too. But it's not intuitive that you should park there to stroll downtown, because getting to Bullard Street and beyond requires crossing the bridge across the Big Ditch. (The appearance of some of the people who hang around the bridge might also discourage visitors from choosing that route.)
Even if the Murray Hotel reopening makes no net impact on parking, given the owners' foresight, parking will remain a problem and a drag on the further development of downtown. The town also owns some Bullard Street property farther away from the core of downtown, Brown says, but that's not very convenient. Other options start to bump up against the laws of physics and geography.
What can Silver City do to make downtown more accessible for shoppers and visitors? In the long term, we'd urge the town to think more aggressively about not only paving lots but even clearing some long-empty storefronts to make room for attractively landscaped parking lots. Some vacant downtown properties are simply too far gone to be rehabilitated, while others suffer from landlords' unrealistic expectations about retail rents. We're not advocating a 21st-century urban renewal or "malling," for heaven's sakes, but a hard look at the realities might be due for the next phase of downtown's life.
In the short term, the town needs to look at improved signage to steer drivers to the places they can park. In particular, the visitor center lot needs to be promoted, its convenience made clear and its bridge to downtown cleaned up. The lot behind the museum is convenient for Yankie and Texas streets, but that may not be obvious to out-of-towners. And for drivers slowly proceeding down Bullard in search of a place to park, a few "P" signs and arrows could spell the difference between enjoying a day downtown and saying the heck with it.
People who regularly work or operate businesses downtown also need to sacrifice their own convenience for that of potential customers, as of course many already do. Sure, it's handy to park right in front of your store or office — but that's one fewer good parking place for the people you're trying to serve. Park farther on the fringes of downtown; the walk will do you good. (Or try biking to work, if you can, which will be even better for you.)
Parking seems a small thing, especially as America struggles to move away from its dependence on the automobile. But for a small town that's not really on the way to anywhere else, which nonetheless has been able to preserve a vibrant downtown, it's essential. How wonderful that recent developments downtown may force Silver City to think about its downtown parking challenges! Now let's try to do more than just think.
Writing, Friending & Tweeting
The latest from "the biggest little paper in the Southwest."
In case you missed the announcement last month, we're once again fully in the throes of our annual writing competition. Submit your best article, short story, essay, poem or other piece of writing by July 20. Entries will be judged on literary quality and how well they express some aspect of life in Southwest New Mexico. You can enter as many works as you like. Maximum length per prose entry is 6,000 words. First prize is $100, plus publication in the September issue, and four second prize winners will earn $25 each plus see their works published.
Entering is easy: Mail entries to Desert Exposure Writing Contest, PO Box 191, Silver City, NM 88062, or email to email@example.com. Include your name and postal address, plus email address if you have one. Entries cannot be returned.
In other Desert Exposure news, now you can connect with us on Facebook. Check out the latest events, comment on the current issue and see what others are saying about "the biggest little paper in the Southwest." Become a friend of Desert Exposure at www.facebook.com/DesertExposure.
We're also now on Twitter, where you can get the lowdown on the latest from Desert Exposure, breaking news from our area and the latest events. Start following our feed at twitter.com/DesertExposure.
On the subject of technology, don't forget that you can now view or download the entire issue, just as it appears in print, online at www.scribd.com/desertexposure. It's also ideal for downloading and reading on your iPad; see the easy step-by-step instructions at www.desertexposure.com/scribd.php.
But don't worry: We'll be back here with the old-fashioned dead-tree edition of Desert Exposure next month on July 2. It's a day later than normal because July 1 is a Sunday and our daughter is getting married in June (see this month's Continental Divide column), making the month is a tad hectic. If you're one of those folks who parks and lines up to get each month's new issue hot off the presses, please take note — and don't take up a valuable parking space until you have to.
David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure