With leadership that “gets it,” Alton could be the next “turnaround city.”

Everyone loves a good deal, and most people prefer to stand behind a winning team, rather than one on the decline.  This, of course, applies to many things besides sports teams, such as a business district or neighborhood.

Many of you have surely watched one of the many popular shows on HGTV where people talk about whether to buy or renovate a home.  Inevitably, the discussion includes the quality of the neighborhood and nearby business districts.  That discussion usually also includes talk about whether the area is stable, getting better or becoming worse.

It’s a fact of life that people will accept much worse conditions today if they feel things are going to get better down the road.  We’ve seen, time and time again, people and businesses move into neighborhoods and cities that were once in pretty rough shape.  St. Louis’ South Grand, Grove and Midtown neighborhoods, University City’s Loop, as well as the cities of Maplewood and Grafton, come to mind.  One could argue that these areas were all in worse shape than Alton has ever been, but today they are clearly all flourishing.

If one researches what began the turnaround, you’d usually find that surprisingly little can tilt the balance of a business district or neighborhood toward recovery.  Their recovery typically starts with a few minor “wins,” which change the momentum.  When people sense the area is “on the rebound,” others jump in while property values are still low because they see an opportunity.

Those urban pioneers who get things going in the first place are further encouraged by local leadership that understands what is necessary to create a turnaround for a city.  Competent, knowledgeable leadership can determine whether a pioneer decides to invest in an area that is rough, but has promise, or if they look at other cities.

commercial buildings falling apart
These building in another city are worse than most in Alton, but we have more than our fair share of buildings held by property owners who are deferring maintenance on their priceless historic buildings, letting them decay and become worthless.  This has to stop.

Good leadership also requires tough decisions that hold opportunistic property owners responsible when they become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.  These opportunistic property owners are actually taking the wrong path.  It may seem appealing to buy up a property for next to nothing, sit on it, and wait for the area to have a turnaround, so they can get rich.  It usually doesn’t work that way.  Speculators who buy up property, sit on it and wait for everyone around them to turn around the city often end up shooting themselves in the foot, so to speak.  Their unimproved, deteriorating property can actually destroy the fledgling turnaround itself, preventing themselves from realizing the very jackpot they are waiting for.

America is full of neighborhoods and business districts that were once in sorry shape, made basic changes to improve their appeal and experienced a dramatic turnaround. Alton is blessed with historic architecture and stunning natural beauty, making our city ripe for a renaissance.  But we first must have the self-confidence and pride in our city to make it happen, along with enlightened leaders who help make it a reality.

We all can be a part of this turnaround, and it doesn’t require everyone to take grand, expensive steps.  Simply taking care of your home or business, keeping our city clean and beautiful, and talking positively about our area, rather than criticizing, would make a huge difference.  These are not unreasonable demands.  This is commonly done in most cities every day all across America, but sadly, it’s not done often enough around here.  We have a lot to be proud of.  Let’s show our pride, and become a part of Alton’s renaissance.

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