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Our view:  Friday brought good news for patrons of downtown Hickory. Grants of more than $7 million were awarded to the city to connect people from nearby neighborhoods with attractions in the downtown area.

Why we believe that:  Hickory’s downtown already has a lot going for it. But the grant may finally help downtown reach its potential.

A longtime knock on the area is its segmentation.

Lenoir-Rhyne University should be key to the city’s future. A student with some extra cash should find it simple to walk downtown for a meal or a beverage. Instead, navigating the streets from the university to downtown, especially crossing the eternally busy Hwy. 127, makes for a less-than-hospitable journey. Lenoir-Rhyne is about 1.5 miles from Union Square.

Head south from downtown and enter the Ridgeview community, which remains an area of great need and great opportunity.  For many Ridgeview residents, the proximity to downtown offers little benefit. Transportation is an issue here, as is access to the opportunity that can be found on Union Square. The Ridgeview library sits less than a mile from Union Square.

The grants aim to link downtown to the SALT Block (science center, art museum and library), Lenoir-Rhyne University, and the Ridgeview community with sidewalks and crosswalks.

What will be the overall effect? We believe the city is right in expecting the improvements to create new housing and business opportunities.

We’ve seen it work in other places. Nearby Statesville’s downtown shares a common history. Retailers fled downtown for malls and shopping centers. By the early 2000s, downtown Statesville was shabby. High-end restaurants and bars could not sustain an economic footing there because people did not venture downtown after work. Retailers that did survive tended to close up shop at 5, discouraging an already lean group of shoppers.

Then the city embarked on a more than $7 million streetscape plan that widened sidewalks, added outdoor seating and changed the appearance of downtown. Today, Statesville’s downtown is thriving and homes near the area do not stay on the market for long. An attorney from Charlotte visited downtown Statesville for an outdoor concert on a Friday afternoon. He remarked on the size of the crowd, the beauty of the city and the number of people at work and play until late in the evening.

And it all began when Statesville invested in making the downtown more welcoming.

In conclusion:  We believe this could be the start of a new chapter in the life of downtown Hickory. There will be naysayers. Disregard those who stand in the way of improvement. The center of the city is its heartbeat. Ours could be much stronger.


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