It’s an age-old question: What should we do about downtown?
The question probably has been asked hundreds of times over the past 30 years in DeKalb. Last week it was asked again at a meeting sponsored by Re:New DeKalb, the city of DeKalb and the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce.
About 50 community leaders showed up to share ideas about improving downtown and discuss its future. Some of the suggestions included expanding the core both eastward and westward and integrating Northern Illinois University.
While we think discussing the future of downtown is essential, there needs to be realistic expectations. This is not Naperville and we don’t have a riverwalk. We’re not Geneva and we’re not St. Charles and we shouldn’t expect to be.
Downtown DeKalb has its obstacles. It’s centered on a state highway and the railroad tracks running through it don’t exactly help the aesthetics. There is no proper gateway to the downtown area when coming from the east.
And it has a perception problem. When the Chronicle publishes stories about downtown, we hear plenty of comments from readers – mostly complaints. There are too many empty storefronts downtown. There’s nothing but thrift stores. There are too many bars. There’s not enough parking.
But we would argue that those who complain about downtown DeKalb haven’t actually been there.
The area has plenty to crow about and maybe we just need to do a better job of marketing it.
There is a beautiful theater, an art gallery, entertainment venues, more than 15 restaurants offering a wide range of cuisines, offices, and shops carrying everything from sporting goods to chocolate to skateboards, not to mention the multitude of gift shops and thrift shops.
And yes, there are a couple of bars. But there’s not an overabundance of them and not any more than downtown Sycamore.
Rather than complain about downtown, we need to support it. Go there. Get out of the car and walk around. And shop. That will be the best investment in the future of downtown DeKalb.