By EAMON BISHOP
The Keizertimes is a strong proponent of our city, much as Mayor Lore Christopher has a reputation for being a promoter of Keizer as well. The publisher must surely know of the perception held by many citizens that the Keizertimes is, in general, prejudiced in favor of our mayor and her political friends. That perception might be correct or it could be most inaccurate, but regardless of the truth, what of it?
A privately owned publication, its editor and its staff have every right to their political and cultural leanings. That is why some people read the New York Times while others read the New York Post. I certainly never read the Register-Guard while growing up in Eugene unless I needed to have my blood pressure elevated. Nobody could ever say that the Keizertimes doesn’t kindle passionate discussion on local matters.
What I do find to be an unfortunate attitude presented in the Keizertimes, in the actions and statements of our mayor, and certainly from some of our past and present city councilors is the ineffective approach to “promoting” and revitalizing the River Road shopping district. I have no experience in marketing, but even I can point out flaws in what city councilors and city leaders see as reasons to pat themselves on the back. As noted in your editorial, “Wave the Keizer banner,” River Road is indeed a heavily-traveled highway, but the majority of this traffic consists of Keizer citizens commuting to and from their places of employment, not of local or transient shoppers looking to spend money at River Road businesses. There is no prominence of drivers from out of town using River Road as a thoroughfare and thus being exposed to River Road’s commerce opportunities.
My opinion is that the only value of revamped River Road sidewalks and of sidewalk art displays is to provide what is probably the most beautiful spot in Oregon in which to stand and wait for a city bus. One rarely, if ever, sees a shopper park at one business lot, only to be drawn and seduced by the fancy sidewalk into a spur of the moment stroll with sudden intent to visit and spend money at a second establishment. The River Road corridor was festooned in the past with streetlamp-mounted banners. All we saw with that promotional attempt was the gradual fading and fraying of the fabric until the banners were finally removed. Christmas decorations along the roadway might need refurbishing, but even if these decorations did create a draw to River Road, they hang there for only six weeks.
I do not make these observations to in any way belittle ideas of others, as my ideas are not always the best themselves. I do know that the unfortunate and most damaging attitude that city leaders have toward developing, funding and promoting the privately-owned Keizer Station area is strangling at an ever increasing rate any chance of success of the River Road district. The fact that the city chose to favor the Keizer Station developments over the River Road area when transferring monies from one fund to the other speaks volumes. City leaders and the council might respond that the funds have since been repaid, but it is the actions of the city that clearly demonstrate where their priorities and misguided loyalties reside.
We could pave River Road with gold, but customer spending and new development along the highway would still not increase. The reason for this is the fact that the city apparently does not understand and will not commit to dealing with the most important problems damning the area, which is the lack of effective promotion, support, and by far most important, the provision of efficient traffic access to River Road via Interstate 5. Despite past suggestions by the public, the city has still not made the minimal investment of placing visible signage along the I-5/Lockhaven Drive corridor indicating to out-of-area Keizer Station shoppers that the River Road business district even exists.
Keizer’s leaders might defend their abandonment of River Road businesses with such reasoning as a desire to develop the Keizer Station area in order to provide employment for local residents. They might speak of their opinion that there is need to focus on Keizer Station development as a means to increase the tax base to support new growth. Reasoning such as this rings hollow if the city is aiming to provide possible new employment in one area rather than supporting local businesses and their existing employees in the other. The need for growth in our tax base is a gray area at best, as Keizer residents have not yet formally decided whether future growth is wanted or necessary.
The bottom line in the discussion about sidewalks and banners is this: A majority of our city councilors and city leaders need to change their culture of belief that they are in place to direct us and to dictate development plan. There must come understanding of the simple principle that local government exists to support and be guided by the people, in this case our River Road business owners. Some members of our council have been in office for years, yet this concept continues to elude them. If the city of Keizer does not provide firm commitment to take measurable, effective action to rightfully support and develop the River Road area, we will have a large, ugly, decaying and shameful district running through the heart of a once proud town.
(Eamon Bishop lives in Keizer.)