Yesterday I had a chance to sit down with downtown store merchant, Les Norton, to talk about the challenges the Laredo Business District faces on a daily basis. Enjoy.
While downtown's decline has been years in the making, it's been difficult for anyone to put forward a plan to attract people to the area. As a result, those whose livelihoods depend on shoppers don't really know what the future holds.
I asked Mr. Norton about downtown revitalization and how long the discussion has been taking place. He's been a business owner for 30+ years.
It's been talked to death and it's been something that it's all talk and no action. And the thing is, we've tried through administration to administration, city council to city council, to get them to try to understand that you can have the prettiest streets and you can have the prettiest sidewalks, the prettiest parking lots, but if you don't have people with money, spending that money in stores in downtown Laredo, what good is it to have the prettiest sidewalks, the prettiest streets?
Our main focal point now and what we've been trying to fight with our city government for the longest times is, in my personal oinion, I don't think they still grasp the fact that we're not asking city government -- we're not asking any government agency, whether it's city, county or state -- I'm not asking city government to put customers inside my store. I'm asking city government to do their best to compete with cities like McAllen, San Antonio, New Braunfels, San Marcos - cities that over the years have taken away shoppers that normally were shopping in Laredo, they've taken away from us.
Why? All I say is compare the city of McAllen, what they've done; And look at Laredo, and compare the two cities. And there are a lot of whys. You can make a list of whys, probably ten pages long. Why do they have more restaurants than we do, better hotels? Why do they have more stores? Why why why? And the city council continues to get upset when we try to compare McAllen and Laredo, yet when all I'm asking you to do is look at McAllen and see what they have; Look at Laredo and see what we have. Explain to me as a taxpayer, as a property owner, as a large employer, explain to me why does McAllen have what they have. Why does Laredo have what it has? That's all I'm asking. I don't see McAllen wasting $500,000 with an architect firm from San Antonio to develop a revitalization plan that I think is a waste of money. Have you seen the plan that the city spent $500,000 for? I haven't. You know, nobody's seen the final draft. Yet the city spent over $500,000. They wined and dined our city council at basketball games in San Antonio, professional fights in Las Vegas, dinners in New York, and we as taxpayers, what do we get? We get trash fees increased, our water bills increased, all under the guise of the city needs more money. Well, the city needs more money, fine, but don't go telling me that the city needs more money and then they go wasting $500,000 that could've been used much better than to develop pages of good looking paper that serves no purpose more than a paper weight.