Things began to change in Mount Morris in 2007. That was when O’Connell quietly began buying up buildings — he now owns 20 — on Main Street. For some he paid as much as $140,000. Others he snatched up for $4,000 at tax-lien sales. Then he went to work. He restored the historic storefronts and interiors, cleaning the tin ceilings. He renovated the apartments on the second floors, bringing in fresh paint, oak and maple floors, new windows, nice bathrooms. He spent about $1 million on the properties, he says, and he expects, when all is said and done, to spend another million on renovations.This might not be possible in Laredo but it gives us a hint of the possibilities.
O’Connell charges these businesses as little as $100 a month in rent, but he asks for things in return. He’s a longtime admirer of Jane Jacobs — he used to carry her classic book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” around like a talisman — and he learned from her and other urban planners. O’Connell’s leases require businesses to leave their lights on at night, to change their window displays at least four times a year and to stay open one evening a week. “If this place is going to make it,” he says, “it’s going to be a community effort.”
Driving around the downtown area and San Bernardo Ave. this weekend I was disheartened by the state of disrepair most buildings find themselves in.
A plan like Mr. O'Connell's could be put into practice here. Unfortunately those with the means tend to do other things with their fortune, like go into politics.