Downtown TH Needs Illumination

According to a recent study (yes, yet another one) by Rose-Hulman graduate student Heather Finnell, downtown Terre Haute needs more lighting and signage.

More lighting? Won’t that just exacerbate the emptiness? Everybody knows that as you age, dim light becomes your friend. Even a woman past her prime looks lovely in candlelight. It is no understatement to say our poor downtown has not aged gracefully. Once a grand dame, she has suffered from both neglect and ill-advised attempts at cosmetic fixes such as getting rid of the run-down Terre Haute House and 500 block.

Damn, there went some historic areas that visitors could have been directed to by signs. And their impressive architecture would have been worthy of lighting while the buildings that replaced them are nothing a visitor would go out of his way to see. Too bad Finnell wasn’t around with her “work with what you have” advice before all the wrecking balls were unleashed.

Finnell suggests applying for a grant from the Stellar Communities (maybe for celestial lighting?) or the Office of Community and Rural Affairs that could provide $500,000 to $1.5 million for substantial, long term projects in Terre Haute. No doubt these state monies will fund even more studies. No doubt those studies will come to the same startling conclusions as Finnell did.

For example, “the desired mindset for downtown is the ‘live, work, play’ environment.” Golly, we didn’t realize that the downtown itself had a mindset, but we are glad to get confirmation that a mixture of housing, offices and entertainment venues comprises an ideal downtown. We had thought maybe creating a giant compost heap would revitalize the area.

And then there’s the sense of spontaneity Finnell advocates.

“You just go, you do, you make it up as you go,” she said. “Go park somewhere and then just go for it. That’s what people really want to do when they go downtown.”

Suddenly, all those parking studies are starting to make sense. Get those spaces lined up and people will come and when they are all walking around under hot lights looking at signs, entrepreneurs can pop up with a destination. How about pulling a venue out of a bag a la Mary Poppins? Or drawing a destination on the sidewalk like Bert and then jumping into it? Holy shit – we may have just come up with a grant worthy idea here.

Finnell, who is not a Terre Haute native, gives simple directions to the area she studied: “go down Wabash and go straight.” No doubt the signs she advocates will facilitate just going for it along the side streets that won’t be scary what with new lighting.

It seems Finnell isn’t quite up to speed on the history of the downtown, as she chides downtown business owners that “just because the mall and 46 is growing so quickly, that that doesn’t mean that downtown Terre Haute has to stay stagnant.” We’ll give her the fact that development around 46 is relatively recent – thanks to the pioneering efforts of the Wal-Mart Corporation, but the exodus of retail to the mall happened in the 70’s. Perhaps moribund would be a better term than stagnant for a condition of four decades standing. At any rate, both the lack of historical perspective and dismissiveness of the effects of franchise competition seem weaknesses in this master’s thesis project.

However, most surprising was how Finnell said she couldn’t tell us the number of times the word “blah” was used to describe downtown. A Rose-Hulman graduate student who can’t count? Say it isn’t so.



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