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Future of downtown Colusa: city's waterfront as outdoors hub?
Art Genera has been in business in the Colusa downtown area for 42 years.
He has watched as the health of the downtown has ebbed, as more and more storefronts have closed, and fewer and fewer people choose to shop in the area.
Genera also has watched one consultant after another, and one revitalization plan after another, come and go without any significant results.
He is not convinced the latest effort will be any different — but he participated just the same.
"The first thing I told them ... is if you want to do something with the city, the consultants need to go out to the businesses and ask what they need," said Genera, who attended one of two sessions set aside for business owners to talk to the latest the consultant.
Genera told them some kind of parking alternative needs to be developed, a beautification plan would help and better signage that links the downtown to the riverfront is critical.
Ian Ross, with City Design Concepts, said he talked to more than 40 people — city officials, business and property owners and members of the public — about their visions for the downtown area on Wednesday and Thursday.
The city has hoped to hold the meetings in the downtown area, but ended up using City Hall. Several business owners said it is nearly impossible for them to get away during the day when these meetings were held.
"This was really a listening tour to find out what the community wants for the downtown area — now and in the future," Ross said.
He said several themes emerged from the discussions, but only one real surprise.
"I always hear they want to be like this (city) or that (city)," said Ross. "Not here."
Ross said whether it is the long generational ties or just civic pride, the people he spoke to wanted Colusa to be just like Colusa.
Ross said that certainly points to the historic values of the downtown, but perhaps in the bigger picture, an image of Colusa as the hub for fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities.
Kittle's Outdoors used just that link to become perhaps the biggest downtown success story in recent years. Although not considered part of the downtown area, which is defined for this purpose as Bridge Street to Highway 45 and the river to Oak Street, Steelhead Lodge also has found a successful river niche.
Ross sees no reason why Colusa could not become known for its outdoor opportunities the same way people automatically think of wine when Napa is mentioned.
"Why can't Colusa be the hub for all of that?" asked Ross, adding it could even have an information center for outfitters and other related services.
Virginia Wilson said she loves to walk along the levee, which is also popular with cyclists and runners. She thinks the city's plans to develop a boat ramp and dock is the right idea.
"I like what they did with Kittle's," said Wilson, adding river rental shops would be popular too.
Gretchen Howe, owner of Richie's Florist, remembers when the river was a popular venue for waterskiers.
Now, she fears, it is too dangerous with all the snags and other debris that are no longer dredged out like before.
She understands the enthusiasm, and certainly favors the link to the river and developing outdoor activities, but there are problems that have to be addressed.
The same is true for the downtown area, she said.
It is not enough to say this is what everyone wants, because the critical issue is what is needed.
She joins Genera in saying parking should be on the top of the list — not only because Colusa residents want to park in front of where they are going, but because if the downtown is ever going to redevelop the residences that are above businesses, or attract new business to bring in even more people to the area, parking will be critical.
Howe said she had hoped to develop apartments above her shop, but the city has said no because of the lack of parking.
Ross said parking is always an issue, but typically finds it is less of one if the area becomes a thriving center for shopping and entertainment.
He agrees that the river will be central to that, and not only by linking the downtown to the riverfront, but also linking the river activities to the downtown.
There have been success stories in the downtown area in the recent past. Gino's Steakhouse is doing well after three years on Fifth Street, and Tommy's Market Street Grill is also popular.
Colusa Floor Covering moved in at Market and Seventh streets, Wild Hair opened last winter and the Riverside Inn is seeing an increase in business on Main Street as well.
But there has been just as many closures, including a popular Mexican restaurant.
Ross will take the input he received a develop a basic plan with strategies for the public to review. That will take place in late May or early June.