I am always caught off guard when I hear people say, “I won’t go downtown.” Mostly, I’m taken aback because not going downtown, for me, would be like not going to Chico. As I’ve blathered on more than one occasion in these pages, the city center has been the hub of my local life.
I worked at the Upper Crust Bakery on Main Street for 11 years, followed by 17 years at the CN&R’s former offices on Second Street. Most of the hundreds of rock shows I’ve produced, played or attended have taken place downtown, and most of the food, beer and coffee that I didn’t consume at home was enjoyed in the area as well. I’ve met countless friends for pints at Duffy’s; walked to the B Street patio many Friday nights for cocktails with my wife and dog; and have been known to drop a few cents on one screw or gasket at Collier Hardware when needed.
This isn’t an exercise rosy picture painting. I’m sharing my history with “going downtown” to show that despite the many issues I’ve encountered there over three decades—aggro college dudes coming out of bars, homeless encampments, the closing of beloved businesses, people having sex in public, cover bands in the plaza—I still go downtown. Whatever the issues, I’m not abandoning my town.
There’s no denying that the area is in trouble right now. On a cursory drive down Broadway and Main Streets recently, I counted more than 20 empty spaces. Chico State enrollment is down 17 percent since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. A report submitted to the Chico City Council by the Downtown Chico Business Association (DCBA) shows that downtown sales tax revenue dropped from $2.17 million in 2019 to $1.35 million in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, and was at only $1.58 million for 2021.
That report was part of a DCBA request for financial support from the city for a “three-year plan to revitalize and bring new focus to Chico’s historical, social and cultural center while promoting the businesses that support the downtown district.”
At the Jan. 17 meeting, the council agreed to award $422,400 in American Rescue Plan funds to the plan, starting with $140,800 for the first year with stipulations for periodic updates to show progress, as well as buy-in from downtown businesses before further funds are released.
At that same meeting, the council approved a motion by Councilman Tom van Overbeek to have staff provide recommendations on potential pedestrian-only zones downtown.
This is all good news. The city should be devoting resources to maintain the health of its core. But you don’t have to wait for any these plans to come fruition to enjoy it. All that “core” stuff is there right now. What downtown needs is you. Just come and things will get better.