• Judy Tighe, CMSM

Why Downtown Matters

Downtowns are all so unique that a single picture can identify a community, setting it apart from all others.

Imagine the gloom of a place so dreary and depressing that locals purposely diverted visitors away from direct routes to ensure they wouldn’t see the embarrassing despair.

Imagine the anxiety in passing through dark, dingy, cavernous walkways in search of storefronts not visible from the street.

Imagine the frustration in driving six blocks out of the way because you missed the single access to a lot close to – but never in front of – your destination (the one you couldn’t see because of the dank walkways).

That was the hopelessness that filled downtown Jacksonville for over thirty years. Even in 2001, when Jacksonville Main Street convinced the City to remove the first sections of its brick and steel canopies that hid building facades, people couldn’t imagine the historic town square would ever return or that the traffic pattern would be restored.

Urban Renewal in the 1970s not only caused all those challenges, it also obliterated a lot of history with the demolition of over 60 buildings whose history, one gone, is lost forever – adding to the emotional and virtual depression of the area.

But why does downtown matter so much? Why invest in an old run-down place?

Every modern town has a “strip” where plain cookie-cutter copies of the same chain stores sprawl out with acres of tree-less paved parking lots… and they all look very much the same from one town to the next.

Even today, the appearance and condition of a downtown casts an unforgettable first impression on larger businesses and investors looking to expand and who pay heed to the question “Why invest in a community that won’t invest in itself?”

Even more, downtown reflects the character of the people who built it and those who continue to live in its vicinity. Those original builders understood that and spent extra time and money to create something they would be proud to have represent them and pass on to future generations.

Architectural styles reflect the eras in which they were constructed and their increasingly rare level of detail and craftsmanship that can call to the imagination to transport the onlooker to another time… something most structures on the modern “strip” cannot do. Buildings built for a particular business tell the story of a town’s development and, as they get repurposed, how trends change and continue adding to its history.

Even today, the appearance and condition of a downtown casts an unforgettable first impression on larger businesses and investors looking to expand and who pay heed to the question “Why invest in a community that won’t invest in itself?”

Downtown Jacksonville’s transformation from the failed Urban Renewal changes came at a cost, but to leave it as it was just 12 years ago was not an option for a community that hopes to grow and thrive. In fact, it was the downtown property owners who paid into the TIF fund who actually paid for the improvements to the square. This long overdue action not only kicked off the resurgence in downtown Jacksonville’s new vitality, it improved the entire community by creating a positive buzz and underscored our community’s commitment to and value of its own history.

That historic flavor, displayed in the unique style and design of our downtown’s original features, adds to Jacksonville’s charm and distinction, creating places for small locally owned businesses and heritage tourism destinations that bolster the local economy.

It also created a place of pride for the entire community. Just as the creators of the historic buildings around downtown loudly demonstrate by their creation’s quiet existence, we too are proud of our community.

Maintaining this place of “community” is a responsibility that falls upon all our shoulders and passes from generation to generation. Even if you cannot take on the mantle of renovating a building or opening a small business yourself, having a supportive attitude for those that do is just as important.

Downtowns hold the key to a prosperous future that is grounded in the past while reflecting who we are for all to see. Therefore, we must raise our standards: we must value and enhance what we have in a way that becomes a source of pride. To do anything less is dodging the important responsibility we have as stewards of our community and its future.

Simply put – downtown matters to all of us.

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Jacksonville Main Street

PO Box 152

Jacksonville, Illinois 62651


Phone: 217-245-6884

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