Making my annual visit last Saturday to Salem, Oregon's wonderful World Beat Festival, I was struck by a couple of dichotomies.
Arriving at the multi-cultural event, after just a few minutes of booth browsing at least one reason why some displays were crowded and some were empty became evident.
Leaving the World Beat Festival, another dichotomy was frustratingly evident.
The main entertainment stage is near the Willamette River. It was great to watch Chinese dancers with such a beautiful natural backdrop of water, trees, and Minto Brown Island.
But then I walked a short distance toward downtown Salem and came to the edge of a concrete wasteland -- the remains of a now-unused Boise Cascade industrial site. Local investors Dan Berrey and Larry Tokarski bought the 13-acre property in 2007, hoping to transform it into a mixed use development.
The development stalled last year and hasn't started up again. If anything, the Boise Cascade property is uglier than before. The main warehouse is half torn down, with chain link fences walling downtown Salem off from an expanse of barren rubble.
This is what Salem is missing: a vibrant, year-round connection to its riverfront. Other cities have restaurants, shops, coffee houses, night clubs, boat rentals, and such along a major river that flows through town.
Salem basically has nothing. Just a park next to a difficult-to-cross busy street (plus train tracks) which attracts throngs of people only for special events during the summer.
There's a gem waiting to be revealed just a few hundred yards from downtown Salem. People are hungry for A Cool Place To Go in Oregon's excessively sleepy capital. It's easy to picture how successful a creative mixed-use development would be along the riverfront.
For now, though, that vision is frustratingly distant. Get going, Boise Cascade site owners. Build it and they will come. For sure.