decatur illinois

Over the past few years Decatur has focused on improving the overall perception of the city.  It’s true that the city has suffered from losses and bad news over many years but in my travels in the state and elsewhere that negative view isn’t what is holding the city back.

Businesses aren’t shying away from Decatur because of some negative perception they’re holding against us.  They’re staying away because they don’t know this city exists.  That has been my experience everywhere I go.  Even when I’m traveling within the state of Illinois, once I get more than 75 miles away from Decatur most people I speak with have no idea where Decatur is.

Nelson Park – Lake Decatur

When I’m on vacation and people ask where I’m from and I tell them Decatur, I almost always get a very blank stare back at me.  The vast majority of people have never even heard of Decatur unless they happened to have had some random family member or friend that once lived here.

Most people have heard of Springfield and quite a few have heard of Champaign so I have to explain to them that Decatur is located in between the two and then a light goes on in their head and they say, “Oh, okay I kinda know where that’s at.”

Coney McKane’s – Downtown Decatur

The good news is that most people do not have a negative view of Decatur at all.  The bad news is that they don’t have any view of Decatur at all.

I think it’s a good thing to have marketing campaigns to improve the overall impression of the city.  I think people in the community are more positive than they used to be but all cities suffer from critical residents.  To be fair, there are things worthy of being criticized.  There are problems but I think our biggest problem is that businesses picture Decatur as most individuals do.  They don’t have a picture of it in their head.

Scovill Zoo

So how do we climb out of the wallpaper in the dance and be noticed?  I think the city has to be very bold and daring.  Innovation, creativity, positive vibes all help.  We need to be known for something unique that is desirable and remarkable.  It can’t be tacky or gimmicky.  It has to be real.  I think many in the city are trying to go in that direction and there are many ways to distinguish ourselves.  I think our lakefront is our best bet as well as investing in green renewable energies and technology.  That’s where the future is.

Anyway, this topic is something I have planned to write about before but after my last trip it hit home even more squarely.  Most of the country doesn’t have a clue who we are or where we are or that we are.  We need to change that if we’re ever going to grow the city.

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I was reading through the comments of an article posted on the Capitol Fax blog regarding Decatur’s recent bottom of the barrel ratings for economic growth.  It’s eye-opening and painful to read other people’s comments about Decatur.  Most people feel sorry for us.  Others remark that our air stinks and that the city looks beat up.

Well, I can’t argue on too many of those points but I have to say that whenever I visit Springfield, I realize how much more I like Decatur.  Springfield is a flat, boring landscape, with caved in sidewalks, way too many one way streets, unnecessarily long stop lights, dirty parking lots, and scary neighborhoods with bars on the windows, reminiscent of East St. Louis. I always feel the need to prepare my soul for my maker before using that horrible bypass on the south side, which really doesn’t bypass any traffic at all.  It shoots you down a 10 ft ramp into the middle of a traffic jam going 85 mph, with semis trying to go 105 on your back bumper.  That’s the Springfield I know.  So Springfield, you ain’t all that either!  I love you but hey, you could do some improving too.

It just goes to show how powerful our brief impressions of a city, we’re not that familiar with, can forever characterize a city in our minds.

When I think of Decatur, I picture this:

Merchant Street under lights.

When outsiders think of Decatur, they picture (and smell) this:

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My Decatur…

Ducks crossing the road at Nelson Park

Their Decatur…

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My Decatur…

Nelson Park Decatur

 

Their Decatur… (Actually, this is a picture of Mars.)

Mysterious Mars Photo

Wait a minute, that’s not Mars.  That’s Springfield!  I’d recognize that landscape anywhere! Hee Hee.

 

 

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Decatur has been in the national news as of late and not for good reasons. It seems our unemployment rate has made us famous, so I thought I’d share with the outside world, views of Decatur, Illinois.  People visit this site from all over the world, and instead of trying to paint to  what Decatur is like with words,  I’ll let the pictures to the talking.
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This was the view out my front door this weekend.  Yes it snows here and I love snow!  I also love Spring, Summer, and Winter.  Yep, we have all four.

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This is a view of one of Lake Decatur’s drying basins.  Decatur is currently experiencing its’ third consecutive year of drought.

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This is another view of Lake Decatur.  Decatur is to begin a major dredging project in 2014 to deepen the lake and increase its’ volume, assuming there’s enough water in the lake this spring to operate the machines.  ADM uses the majority of the water in their processing.

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This is a view from Central Park in Downtown Decatur during this year’s annual Christmas Walk, which I enjoyed very much.

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A holiday storefront on Merchant Street, one of Decatur’s oldest retail areas.

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I just like the lights on this 100+ year old building, so that’s why I’m showing it.  This is in Downtown Decatur.

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An oak lined street in one of Decatur’s neighborhoods.  Yes, there are several attractive neighborhoods in Decatur. We all don’t live in cardboard boxes or beneath bridges, regardless of what some might think.

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A section of the bike path that runs through much of Decatur along a scenic route.

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Stevens Creek.  A peaceful view of a prairie stream.

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A really dark and sinister view of ADM. Ha.  It doesn’t look quite look this bad in person.  It may smell really bad but it generally isn’t quite this scary looking.  I’m an environmental science student, so I used this photo in one of my projects.  In all honesty, we do have air quality issues depending upon which direction the wind is blowing.  I won’t lie.  I don’t enjoy it.

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Driving home in my neighborhood.

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The Sangamon River:  The same river that Abraham Lincoln was passionate about and spoke of in his first political speech delivered in Decatur.  This is very much the Land of Lincoln.

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Lake Decatur with water in it!  This is a view of one of the main basins this summer from our boat.  This was an extraordinary sunset.

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Decatur’s lakefront in construction.  This is probably the most ambitious project the city has taken on in an effort to attract and retain residents.  The plan calls for lakeside living, shops, restaurants, a water park, and several other recreational facilities.

So these are just a few views of Decatur.  I hope it gives those on the outside a better sense of what Decatur is beyond the statistics.  And if you would like to locate a business here, we would LOVE to speak with you.  No community would be more grateful to have you, and it’s not torture to live here, as you can see.  It’s a pretty amazing place, I think.

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I took my camera out to Nelson Park and got a few shots of the new miniature golf course that is quickly taking shape.  I was curious how the course would be laid out and I’m impressed.  The meandering paths, lined by stone and other natural looking elements are a big improvement over Paul’s Puttin’ Place.

The theme of the course is escaped animals from Scovill Zoo, which should be fun.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for their arrival.  I would imagine a fence will going up around the course to protect it.

The first few photos are of earlier this year after the old Nelson Park golf course clubhouse had been removed.  It was sad to see it go but it’s usually cheaper to build new than retrofit.

Also coming to the golf course is a CherryBerry, which should be a big hit and fit in nicely.  The only thing that would be better is a Krekel’s but one is located just down the road.

(Click on the images for a larger view or slideshow.)

After the old golf club house had been removed, making way for the new.

After the old golf club house had been removed, making way for the new.

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The view before construction had begun in the Spring of 2013.

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Another view of site preparation. Not much to see yet.

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New clubhouse going up! It’s going up quickly.

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Many of the winding concrete sidewalks through the new course have been poured. Here workers are attending to a bridge.

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We can begin to see how the course is going to look with the stone. Sure an improvement over Paul’s Puttin’ Place. No offense to Paul’s because I’ve had a lot of great times there!

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Somewhere along these winding paths, players will be greeted by “escaped zoo animals”. That will be the theme of the course.

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A closer look at the stone lined, winding paths.

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A crane hoists lumber for the new clubhouse.

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One of the wooden steps along the path taking shape.

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These workers aren’t messing around. The course is scheduled to be ready for business in the Spring of 2014.

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A peek at the clubhouse through the many mature trees that were left standing. I’m glad they have been incorporated into the course instead of removed.

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The length of the new clubhouse, September 2013.

 

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It’s been five and a half years since I started this blog.  I remember myself as so much more innocent then but memories can gloss over a lot of the rough spots. Ha!  Then I hadn’t noticed my first gray hairs.  Now I can’t help but notice them.  Then my daughter was only 10 years old and my son was 3.  Now my daughter is driving on a learner’s permit (hence the gray hair) and my son is going into the third grade.

Downtown Decatur has changed quite a bit in five and half years too.  I went back and looked at some of the first posts I put up.  As I did I ran across some pictures of the Regions Building as it was being built and the demolition of the buildings to the west of it.  I had totally forgotten what they looked like, other than the Carson Pirie Scott building. It stuck with me because I wished then that it had been saved.  It wasn’t an architectural beauty by any means but I can’t imagine another building of that size being built in Decatur again.

Today the Regions Building is mostly filled with ADM employees and the the site of the buildings that were torn down across from it is green space waiting for new development.  In 2013 the area looks much better than it looked in 2008.  It looks new and refreshed.  I wish five and half years had done the same to me.

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A look to the past. One of the buildings torn down in 2008.

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Notice the detail in the building. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

 

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The 300 Block of North Water in 2008. The Carson Pirie Scott building is the tall yellow one on the right at the end of the block.

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I think both of these buildings are gone. I know the one of the left is and I’m pretty sure the one in the right is as well. I’ll have to drive down there and see!  These are facing North Street.

 

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