ANDERSON – As a brewery and distillery continue work on the downtown’s north side and several housing developers look at rebuilding historic downtown buildings, Mayor Thomas Broderick is hoping for a downtown renaissance.
“We all know the downtown is never going to be what it was in '50s and '60s,” Broderick said. “(Instead) downtown organizations are working now to get a lot of younger folks together to talk about innovation.”
Between the recent announcement that a developer has begun work to revitalize the historic Delaware Court Apartments, and efforts to restore other historic buildings including the Tower Apartments on Jackson Street, Beverly Terrace on Central Avenue and the State Theatre on Meridian Street coupled with the attraction of a new brewer and distillery on Eighth Street, Broderick said he is seeing the fruition of that innovation.
However, he cautioned, there’s not a lot a government body can do to help when many of the downtown’s buildings are owned by individuals.
Instead, the city works to build connections between developers and owners, as well as offer tax abatements or help with clearing regulatory hurdles.
He offered the Tower Apartments project as an example.
“(The building) has been empty for a long time, electric cut and they needed to get electric on to be able to do a little better review, so made arrangements to put a meter in and drop electric, turned it on our costs,” Broderick said.
He also pointed to months of work with several young community leaders to build a co-working space in the city to allow young entrepreneurs and creators to work in a shared community workspace.
“It’s got to be something that is attractive to young folks and we have been working on an overall effort to draw young people in, and then develop amenities that also the rest of the population is interested in as well,” he said.
And that’s key to the mayor’s vision for the future of downtown Anderson, focus on bringing young singles and families downtown to spur innovation, either by bringing in large businesses like NTK, which broke ground on a $98 million facility this month, or by building a creative, inspiring, and eventually thriving, downtown area to attract young people who can build to the city’s legacy.
When looking for a place to live, unlike previous generations, millennials are more focused on finding a good place to live, and then finding employment, according to numerous studies.
“You always need to keep your young people here, don’t want the brain drain, you want people to get schooling, maybe go off somewhere else, and come back home and be able to make it,” Broderick said.
“I don’t ever want to tell someone they have to come back, but I really want that to be an attractive option.”
It’s not ignoring the city’s established residents, Broderick was quick to counter, but instead focusing on amenities that both bring in young millennials and also enhance the city for the population overall.
And among the most important things a city can offer to millennials are options for public transportation and the ability to easily walk or bike to their destinations.
A recent study by The Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America found millennials want low-cost transit and multiple options for getting around a city.
More than half of those asked in the study said they would consider moving to a new city if it had better public transportation and 66 percent said high-quality public transportation was a top factor in determining where to live.
For Anderson, Broderick pointed to a project that’s been in the works for several years, a new city bus terminal that would include restaurants at 13th and Jackson streets.
“Not only a bus terminal (but) also mixed use for retail, sandwich, small restaurant,” Broderick said. “And I’m envisioning three-story building, think it could have some real potential.”
The city has been working on this project for some time, and Broderick said the city is just now working with the federal government to complete a preliminary environmental study.
As for bike lanes, though it would be nice, Broderick said many of the downtown streets are too small for bike lanes without cutting out a lane of traffic or removing on-street parking. Instead, he said, the city is focusing on sharrows, areas in the city where drivers are made aware that bikers will likely be sharing the road.
As for trails and other walking paths, Broderick announced in July a plan to resurface the trails around Shadyside Lake this summer.
The paving project will include some renovation to the existing trail system, including widening the trails in some areas, clearing of dead trees, repaving of associated parking areas and reinforcing washout areas.
But all the investment in the world is only so good if it can attract businesses and residents to live, work and play downtown.
“We just need more things to do,” said Courtney Brown, a 25-year-old Anderson resident.
Though she was encouraged by the recent opening of Kettletop Brewery - and the upcoming addition of Creatures of Habit Brewing Co. - and other announcement that more was to come, she was worried many of the town’s buildings sit empty.
“All of the downtown just looks like it’s dying,” she said.
Samuel Lawrence, 27, said he comes downtown rather often, because it’s near where he works at Ricker’s, but because there’s a lack of entertainment he often goes out of town, too.
“We would certainly love to see more in this area,” he said.