Advocate editorial board opinion: City should reconsider vision for riverwalk

May 14, 2011 at 12:14 a.m.

Great cities dream big.

In San Antonio, architect Robert H.H. Hugman saw the possibilities after a horrible flood killed more than 50 people in 1921. Where many saw only destruction and despair, Hugman saw the beginnings of the famous San Antonio Riverwalk.

Many agree the Guadalupe River is Victoria's most underused asset. Others see it only as a dirty body of water that floods too often and can't imagine what it could be.

Back in the 1980s, Victorian Harold Nichols and others had a vision for creating Victoria's own riverwalk. They hired San Antonio's Al Groves and Associates, who engineered an extension of the San Antonio Riverwalk.

That plan fell apart as the economy soured during the oil bust, but the vision deserves more consideration. The exact plan might not be what Victoria needs, but the river remains central to the city's past and future.

With the momentum created by the downtown sidewalk project and by the new Main Street program, Victoria is poised to reinvent itself in the 21st century. The arrival of the new Caterpillar manufacturing plant and the expansion of the University of Houston-Victoria add to the excitement.

The money needed for a riverwalk seems staggering, but Groves says an even bigger challenge is getting public support. If a community truly works together, even big dreams are possible, he says.

One idea worth exploring is using city hotel-motel tax money to sustain the project and combine that with federal grants and private investment. Some have criticized the Victoria Convention and Visitors Bureau's advertising campaign, which uses hotel-motel tax money, for failing to give people a reason to visit the city.

Imagine if $750,000 a year were used instead to help create a riverwalk and a downtown hotel and convention center. The project might take decades to complete, but it would transform Victoria.

The most attractive cities in the world have used their rivers as attractions. Victoria could do this and add to that effort the rich history of its downtown. "Our Main Streets tell us who we are and who we were, and how the past has shaped us. We do not go to bland suburbs or enclosed shopping malls to learn about our past, explore our culture, or discover our identity. Our Main Streets are the places of shared memory where people still come together to live, work, and play,'' the Main Street program declares on its website.

The state restricts the use of hotel-motel tax to putting "heads in beds," so undoubtedly some might argue this long-term project wouldn't qualify. The city would be wise to research this point, however, and consider the hotel-motel tax also may be used for historical renovation and preservation and for convention and visitors centers. This project seems to qualify on all counts.

Many cities, including Victoria, suffer from the Eeyore Syndrome. You likely know some of these people. They're always quick to point out why something can't be done and find the worst in everything. To quote A.A. Milne:

"Good morning, Pooh Bear,'' said Eeyore gloomily. "If it is a good morning," he said. "Which I doubt," said he.

"Why, what's the matter?"

"Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it.''

The Eeyores among us will look at the Guadalupe and see only alligators. Optimists see a river of dreams.

Leaders will figure out how to navigate the gators and turn a big dream into action.



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