Last week’s Thursday edition was packed with exciting news for Watertown. Two big developments are coming to town.
It was refreshing to read that the Watertown Redevelopment Authority had inked a memoradum of understanding to pave the way for a multifamily and retail complex on the edge of the new Town Square and that plans are in the works for a new hotel on Church Street.
The news is especially welcome in light of the loss of the Chase Bank downtown, the pullback of the Bethesda organization and the more recent announcement that Family Video was shutting its doors.
In normal times, development ebbs and flows all the time, but to keep up positive momentum for economic progress during the pandemic seems to require almost herculean effort.
It is no surprise that the video business is on the brink, that we don’t go to banks like we used to and that the world of nurturing those who need extra care is changing, but nevertheless it is hard not to be saddened by the ends of these eras. A piece of life the way we used to know is gone for good.
Sometimes we treat downtowns as museums, architectural relics of the way things used to be well over 100 years ago, when foot and horse traffic ruled the day and automobiles were still a novelty. But downtowns only exist for the future, not the past. The trick is to honor that past and meet the needs that lie before us.
The RDA plan is exciting on so many fronts. It calls for 75 multifamily units and 3,000 square feet of commercial space on a complex just to the south of the Town Square. Not only is this $11 million investment a financial boost to city tax rolls, it is a shot in the arm for an emerging sector of the community.
Close your eyes and try to imagine this new complex overlooking the Town Square with shops opening onto the new park and its vista overlooking the Rock River. Nearby, the new multimilllion-dollar library expansion is unfolding and between that institution and the park, Water Street is being reimagined as a plaza that connects the two.
It’s hard not to get excited about that whole swath of downtown and how the public-private partnership could be changing the dynamics in that sector, and, we hope, igniting redevelopment for the rest of downtown, too.
Not far away, a city study paved the way for a 61-unit hotel on Church Street in Watertown, another boost to the community that will be poised for growth not long after the vaccine is here and the pandemic lifts.
Anytime businesses retract, especially those we hold dear, it can be a sad moment for the community, but it is also an opportunity. There is a season for everything, and change can open the door for a move to bigger and better things.
There is much work to be done in Watertown, downtown and elsewhere, but progress works just like a freight train; the hardest part is getting it started. Once it gets rolling, it’s hard to stop it. That’s why we should all celebrate this past week’s revelations, as much for what they are, but more so because they are the advent to something more grand yet to come.