Decatur Civic Center Improvements and a New Downtown Hotel?

The Decatur City Council recently held a study session discussing what improvements could or should be down to the Decatur Civic Center. Of more interest to many was the discussion of a new hotel and family entertainment center.

When I heard of the study session on the news, I thought the main attraction was a hotel. There is much more to it. Instead, the council heard recommendations for making downtown much more of a destination for residents and travelers. We’re talking, an addition to a hotel, a family entertainment center, or FEC, with a restaurant, indoor rope course, roller coasters, arcades, aquarium, rope climbing courses, possible waterpark, and other ideas depending upon what private entities Decatur could entice.

Two companies suggested for providing the family entertainment aspect were Funtopia and Dave & Busters, as examples.

An aquarium ultimately wasn’t recommended for the project because it was felt an aquarium would be a better located next to Scovill Zoo and the Children’s Museum. I agree, and I’d love to see that happen! Oh, Mr. Buffet, do you like fish?

How feasible is all of this? I’m obviously not an expert, but common sense goes a long way. I remember my parents, and pretty much everyone else in town, way back in the early 80s believing the civic center being built was too small to host concerts, or other major events. They were right.

I’ve only attended two concerts in the civic center in my life. The first one was of my grade school glee club being the cover band for John Denver. My only memory of it is seeing my mom laughing in the crowd, and me not knowing what was so funny. Then there was the legendary performance of the heavy metal band Ratt in the early 80s. The guitarist for their opening act winked at me and tossed me a guitar pick, but someone else snatched it. Somewhere, somebody has that pick, probably worth millions, while I’m here having to go to work every day.

There is a mural downtown of former mayor Mike McElroy with his “Dream Big” mantra posted in big bold letters. I think we should consider his words. Those planners of the original civic center played it too safe. There is such a thing as being too cheap. On the other hand, we have to be practical too.

Besides the proposed hotel and family entertainment center, improvements for the civic center itself were suggested with an estimated price tag of $5,000,000 to $10,000,000. Probably, the biggest renovations would be moving the city council chamber to the first floor and improving the safety of the building, in light of mass shootings throughout the country.

I’m all for safety improvements and making the council chamber more accessible. Right now, it requires walking up a few flights of stairs, or taking an elevator to reach the chamber. Improvements are needed.

I almost forgot that the civic center has a theater, since it is so underutilized. The only events I’ve attended at the theater are debates for city council candidates. While political debates are always entertaining, it does seem odd that I’ve never attended any other events there. Why? Did everyone else forget the theater too? Poor marketing? Is it too pricey to rent? Other limitations? I’m not sure.

There wasn’t any major recommendations for improving the theater. Instead, creating larger spaces for conventions was recommended. Also, improving the skating rink to be operational for more of the year was suggested. I guess, due to high humidity in warmer months, it isn’t possible to have ice for a skating rink year round. Upgrading the rink would allow it to be open more of the year. Also, the addition of another skating rink outside the civic center, owned privately, would help make it more appealing to regional hockey and ice skating events.

Additionally, in the proposal was the recommendation of installing solar panels in the civic center parking lot to help power the building. Designed like car ports, cars would park beneath them. Plus, it shows the city is more progressive, in terms of technology and being committed to a greener future. I think that’s important to show to the world. If it saves energy costs long term, I’m all for it.

I’d encourage you to read through the study session materials to get all the nuggets of information out of it. I look forward to future discussions regarding the hotel and family entertainment center. Decatur is very much lacking things for families to do, especially during winter months. I’m open to hearing all the ideas and options.