Salem, Oregon often is referred to as So-Lame. At least when compared to Salem's cooler neighbors, Portland, Corvallis, and Eugene.
But there is hope for our town, judging from the creative ideas that were shared at today's Salem City Club meeting -- "My New Year's Wish for Salem." Here's how it was billed:
If you could have one New Year’s wish for Salem, what would it be?
2014 is just around the corner. It’s time to close the book on 2013 and think about the future of our city. We’ve assembled a panel of Salem residents to do just that. Our panel represents a broad range of occupations, ages, and civic involvement but they all have one thing in common: some thoughts on what they’d like to see happen (or not) in Salem next year.
Below I've shared some of the post-it note wishes that were written by people in the audience, including me, and put on a large board at the request of Carlee Wright and Brian Hart, enthusiastic promoters of artistic citizen expression.
But first... some highlights from the panel presentation. Everybody had great ideas. These are a few that particularly resonated with me.
Rob Melton, the bar manager at Amadeus restaurant, talked about how Salem has got to do something about its glut of empty buildings and storefronts. Property owners aren't doing what they should to fill those spaces.
He said that a man he knows wanted to open a restaurant here. A suitable location was found, but the landlord refused to bring the propery up to code. Understand: the man wasn't asking for the landlord to pay for renovations, just for necessary improvements to make the building legally usable.
Now, Melton said, McMinnville has a new restaurant. Salem doesn't. Because the man went elsewhere.
I don't remember all of the details of Melton's wish, but this was the gist: make it financially tough on landlords who prefer to get tax write-offs for empty buildings, rather than rent them to people who want to open a shop, restaurant, or whatever.
After a property is vacant for six months, require the landlord to try harder. I believe Melton said the requested rent should be decreased. Then progressively tighten the screws on the property owner.
Great idea in concept. Probably tough to do politically. Sure is worth discussing by City officials, though. Melton is absolutely right: Salem has way too many vacant buildings, and nobody is doing much to get them filled with new businesses.
Loretta Miles, owner of Salem Cinema, started off by talking about how great it is that we have an independent art house here. Lots of cities the size of Salem don't. But, she said, Salem Cinema faces a tough challenge in 2014.
Since movie theatres are going digital, moving away from 35mm film, Salem Cinema has to do the same to survive. The cost: $50,000 for each of the three theatres. That's $150,000 Salem Cinema has to come up with, or close.
Which would be super sad.
I can't imagine what Salem would be like without Salem Cinema. Well, more accurately I don't want to imagine that. Miles will be starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money through individual donations.
(For a example of what this will look like, check out the successful CinemaSalem Kickstarter campaign that raised $69,000 in Salem, Massachusettts.)
When the time comes, everybody who loves Salem Cinema has to chip in. I've been a contributor to several Kickstarter projects. They're a lot of fun to be part of.
You get stuff for your contribution. You get insider updates on what is happening with the project. You get the satisfaction of knowing that you're helping a good cause stay out of the clutches of a bank lending department, not the most pleasant place to look for money these days.
Here's what the board looked like after Carlee Wright (entertainment reporter for the Statesman Journal) and Brian Hart (producer at Allied Video) asked City Club attendees to write down their own 2014 wishes for Salem.
I took iPhone photos of some of the wishes. Including my own, of course. I'll share the content of the wish under each, since a few are difficult to read. I corrected some misspellings.
1. Combination of my two favorite things: the cherry blossoms & Salem's outdoor markets into one festival. 2. A trolley that circles the capitol mall & takes people downtown to the restaurants & shops.
Make downtown way cooler. City of Salem needs to let downtown businesses control their own downtown association. [This was my wish -- a subject I've blogged about before.]
Salem is a destination day-trip city for people from Eugene, Portland, Corvallis, McMinnville.
Make the Riverfront and Minto Brown into a basis for art and enjoyment and exercise similar to the great rivers of Europe. Albeit on a smaller basis.
Salem Sunday (at least) once a month!!
Would like to see programs via a diversity of media -- featuring how other communities, cities, etc. have devised different means of improving their communities -- as a means of invigorating us to action.
Lastly... kudos to Michael Davis, executive editor of the Statesman Journal, who did a great job moderating the City Club event. I also appreciated him expressing a wish that popcorn prices be reduced at movie theatres, as this was a learning moment.
Not surprisingly, Loretta Miles grabbed the microphone from him. She explained that movie theatres, whether large or small, don't make money from selling tickets. What pays the bills and keeps the theatre open is the snack bar.
So she said she wishes for higher popcorn prices. Now that I understand the importance of the Salem Cinema snack bar to the theatre's ability to stay open, I'm going to pay for my popcorn there even more gladly.
Already easy to do, because Salem Cinema has the best movie theatre popcorn I've ever eaten.
And super-kudos to City Club president Russ Beaton for his concluding song -- which I gather he composed himself -- that related Santa Claus and NSA spying in a pleasingly bizarre fashion.
I didn't know Russ could sing so well. Or, if he did indeed compose the ditty, had such song-writing skills.
Sadly, he said that his public performance was both the first and last for the song. Unsadly, CCTV filmed the event, so it will be possible for people all over the world to watch Russ sing his song for as long as the Internet endures.