It’s hard not to feel a buzz of anticipation when looking at the conceptual drawings of downtown Victoria in a recent briefing provided to City Council.
From food trucks to pedestrian walkways to new signage, the drawings show many of our favorite parts of downtown — DeLeon Plaza, The Box Coffee Bar, the library — filled with activity and charm.
Yes, these are just drawings, and it takes a lot of money, time and effort to put a redevelopment plan like this into action. But there are several reasons to get excited about the vision for downtown put forward by city planning firm Freese and Nichols.
First and foremost, many of the ideas presented in the planning document are actually achievable. We’re not talking a new Schlitterbahn in Riverside Park or a lazy river running around DeLeon Plaza. Instead, there are modest ideas that would go a long way toward attracting more people to downtown’s existing resources: shaded outdoor seating, a staging area for food trucks, a dog park.
Second, there is a new vision for downtown features that need improvement. For instance, the Five Points intersection at Moody and North streets, a pothole-riddled source of bewilderment for many commuters, could see a new street layout and traffic signals. The former Mitchell Guidance Center on Commercial Street was converted into a COVID-19 treatment center this week, but in the long term, planners propose turning the neglected building into museum or event venue, and redesigning the adjacent Memorial Park.
Finally, the ball is already rolling on several aspects of the downtown plan, including the Innovation Collective’s co-working site at the former Bank & Trust building or the Main Street Program’s facade restoration grants. Meanwhile, City Council’s consideration of a reinvestment zone that would dedicate existing tax revenues toward downtown improvements is one of several strategies to muster the funding for more ambitious downtown projects, such as developing new residential units or attracting a boutique hotel.
It’s good to dream big, but those dreams should be grounded in reality. So far, it looks like Victoria’s downtown plan accomplishes both.