Thursday, August 27, 2009

Alton Riverfront: National Destination in the Making

Not that I think this has not been or isn't debated frequently in the homes and businesses in the Riverbend, even in the news publications, blogs and websites --- but it seems to me that the Alton Riverfront is poised for an exciting period of time within the next decade. The Riverfront Amphitheater recently joined a delightful Alton Marina and the pedestrian-friendly Riverfront Park area, BUT it seems like it is missing an element which could bring Alton back into the FOREFRONT of the American public scene.

Sure I'm talking BIG, thinking BIGGER, and may I now suggest that there is at least one more project which would make the Alton riverfront a NATIONAL DESTINATION for many more people than those who like that majestic (and obviously functional) bridge over the Mississippi River. The Clark Bridge is a marvelous focal point, to be sure, but can serve as a supportive background for another act. No, I do not mean all of the ghost-hunting tourists.

This probably isn't a completely new idea, but I've not seen it spelled out in the writings I have read --- so here goes my BIG IDEA:


Before you simply claim it to be a lame or unworkable idea, think about missed opportunities.

Other cities have been presented ideas such as this and either taken the bull by the horns and prospered (Milwaukee WI has a first-class festival grounds used every warm weekend along Lake Michigan for 30 years or more) or has dropped the ball when presented this option. Let's pick on our largest neighbors for a moment. A chance to carve a national niche with a large festival grounds nestled inside downtown St. Louis in the 1990s was passed over by city officials in favor of...(drumroll and cymbal crash)...a large warehouse/distribution building. St. Louis passed up a piece of the national and/or worldwide tourism pie which could have drawn an additional several million people each year to this region for the past decade --- visitors who spend their time and money at festivals elsewhere. But it is true that dozens of people are employed at the Gateway distribution warehouse as many distribution warehouses on Hall Street in St. Louis are vacant, maybe employing a few security guards. Urban planners are quick to point out that cities of all sizes must use prime downtown land for something significant. If you drive along M.L. King at 21st Street in St. Louis, you can see for yourself what could have been. It's not hard to imagine.

Back to the Riverbend and not missing an opportunity in Alton.

It's 2009. The Alton Riverfront has come a long way since 1993. It is a fine work in progress, as anyone who hasn't seen it much since 2000 and suddenly took a day to walk along the stated area would tell you. Additionally, there is hope that the Riverbend's local movers and shakers will seize the moment and react better than the region's largest city. I urge everyone in power and with a voice to make sure we do not miss this great chance awaiting us. Sure, I can give you details. But we need more than details.

Not losing the opportunity being presented requires action.
What is the necessary action? It is a must to carve out the land area necessary for this to occur.

If you travel along Landmarks Blvd., then you probably can come away with an idea of what I envision. The trick is to make satisfied those who would feel they are being encroached upon by "progress".

This should not be labeled "too difficult" a task by the forward-thinking members of the city of Alton or the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau or the RiverBend Growth Association. Yes, it is visually obvious that Alton has a nice start already in place. Made more culturally significant with the Marina, Amphitheater and Riverfront Park, adding a festival grounds along the Mississippi River brings Alton one simple step from surpassing St. Charles as the best regional riverfront destination other than the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

To be sure, I am NOT suggesting Alton will draw many millions of people to such a small area. However, I am betting that several hundred thousand per year is not impossible. It doesn't seem such a bad idea to have thousands coming to Alton most weeks, does it?

It starts with growth at a logical focal point --- the Alton Riverfront. Imagine what could happen with a thriving festival grounds filled with thousands of tourists, an active Amphitheater, a busy Marina, and well-maintained park/green space for residents. Use your mind's eye to see what it would mean to those with businesses in downtown Alton near Piasa Street, along Broadway, as well as throughout the entire Riverbend. This is not a pipe dream, folks - it can be attained.

If you would like to comment, please contact me --- buzzmusicmedia at the good ol' gmail will get a response from me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Retiring Alton Police Chief Chris Sullivan: Riverbend Leader To Stay Active

It's not apparent to everyone, but I've been a news reporter and news anchor, affording me opportunities to meet with what most media types (and Americans in general) call "personalities" in public life. Among those I have been allowed to meet in the past is Alton's retiring Police Chief Chris Sullivan.

Chief Sullivan is not a friend of mine and he may not even remember having had a conversation or interview with me. I'll admit that I don't recall the length of our last interview or the subject --- just that it took place while I worked as a reporter/editor/anchor for Metro Networks' St. Louis news bureau a few years ago, but I recall enough about having talked with Sullivan on more than one occasion to say that I always felt I was being given a great deal of detail and forthrightness when he answered questions. Sullivan was not what a lot of reporters refer to others as "a cloak-and-dagger public official" --- that, by the way, is the type of person who will hide details or holdback information simply because a question was phrased wrong and soon after you leave their presence would puncture you by telling their subordinates to give a particular reporter no more details, or even interviews, until given the green light to so do. Yes, I am saying it happens. But I am clearly saying Chief Chris Sullivan was NOT like this --- he was the kind of leader that Altonians can proudly say was doing "a good job".

Whereas it is true that I cannot state that he was what all of Alton wanted --- the criminal element certainly didn't like his outstanding leadership --- the department made significant strides in ridding Alton of much crime (and those who perpetrated the criminal activity) while under his reign as police chief.

As a recent "move-in" to the city of Alton, I was very happy to tell my family and friends how pleased I was to see the vast improvements made in some neighborhoods with the help of so many in Alton --- but especially because of the law enforcement programs the retiring chief had helped implement, and the elimination of crime as a result of the action of police. Chief Sullivan seemed to be tough in areas where he needed to be tough, and yet most people would say he has been known to be even-handed and even-tempered with his officers and charges. It was that kind of leadership which made him a good fit as police chief for the past seven years. But it is not the end of Chris Sullivan being an area leader in the Riverbend. As he steps away from his desk and the podium at the APD, he moves to a position behind yet another desk and podium at Lewis and Clark Community College where he becomes an educator in the school's criminal justice program. One can surmise that his days of leadership are far from over even if he is retiring from being an active police chief.

I don't know where Chief Sullivan resides in the Riverbend, but I'm sure as things go I will one day run into him somewhere around town. I plan on thanking him for his public service and genuine character. If he is the same in person without a uniform as he has been all these years IN uniform, Sullivan will probably say it was just part of the job.