economic development

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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The city of Decatur’s Web site has a copy of the Macon County/Decatur Comprehensive Plan Draft, which has several ideas for improving Decatur and Macon County.   This is a 136 page PDF file that tackles economic, park, conservation, historic, transportation, and residential issues facing Decatur.  Much of it focuses on beautifying some of Decatur’s main corridors and older neighborhoods, while ensuring future development is in synch with exsisting development.  There’s much to digest in the document but the “Decatur Landing” proposal caught my eye.  Decatur Landing refers to the Nelson Park and Chandler Park areas along Lake Decatur’s shores.  City leaders and developers have tossed around ideas for this area, however I hadn’t seen an actual sketch of what is being considered until I browsed through the plan document.  (See page 114 of the draft.)   A new hotel, beach and amphitheater is in the draft and would fill what is now Chandler Park,  situated directly south of St. Mary’s Hospital and on the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Lost Bridge Road.

Personally, I’ve always thought the Chandler Park area was underutilized and an attractive area for  development.  I’ve discussed development in this area before on this blog but being a visual learner, it helped to actually see what is being proposed.

I’d encourage every Decaturite take a look at the plan draft to get an idea of what city leaders are considering for the future.

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