Downtown looks to draw more consumers
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With five theaters, specialty retail shops and many bars and restaurants, you'd think people would flock to downtown Wilmington. However, parking hassles and minimal outreach means some people just don't know what the area has to offer.

A grassroots organization is trying to change that. "Do It Downtown" hopes to revitalize and strategize to draw diners, culture seekers and shoppers.

Hot Pink Cake Stand is one of downtown's latest additions to the business scene. It's owner, Jody Carmichael says, she's not new to the area, but downtown is relatively new to her.

"I moved to Wilmington in 2003 and I can't tell you how many things I had never been to downtown, until I came back this year and actually live and work downtown," Carmichael said.

Carmichael was just one of many local business owners to attend "Do It Downtown's" marketing strategy session. Just like Jody, a lot of the people who attended say people just don't know what there is to do, see and eat.

"We need a vibrant downtown 12 months a year," Joan Loch, owner of Crescent Moon at the Cotton Exchange said. "It's always been here but people need to rediscover it."

Between questions, comments and concerns, the forum generated some marketing strategies to draw people to Wilmington's downtown. The most popular idea seemed to be creating a map locating and categorizing each business that would be available in front of the post office on Front Street.

"I'm a new downtown resident myself," Lori Unruh, with Indigosilver Photograpy on Front Street said. "I think a map would be really helpful. I'm still trying to learn my way around downtown and still trying to learn what businesses are here and what they offer."

Also on that map would be where to find available parking. Customers can be kept away by what the group called a perceived problem.

"It's very reasonable and inexpensive down here and if you do have to park far away from your destination, there are free trolleys," Lisa Layman, founder of Dinewilmingtononline.com, said.

With the Front Street improvement project just beginning, now more than ever, business owners say working together to cross market could be key to downtown success.

"I think what everyone is realizing is that their own marketing efforts really need to benefit their own community of business owners as well," Layman said.

Another marketing idea mentioned at the meeting was creating a downtown business event to put on the agenda for "Be a Tourist in your Hometown" event coming up in March.

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Wilmington Down Town is dead and has been for 30 years. You can pour all the money in the world there and it is not going to change anything. Let's look at some of the problems..

1. You have to pay for parking. If you are lucky your car will be intact when you come back.
2. If it is raining you are going to get wet. Can't park close to anything.
3. There are more bars than anything else there.
4. You have to put up with the drunks.
5. Good chance of getting robbed.

So, just give it up and stop wasting money. Let the businesses in the area pay for improvements like all the other business do in their area. I don't see the City spending money trying to get people to go to the Mall.

They think if the build it down town people will come, but that should look at the past and see it doesn't work..

Baltimore did it. Norfolk did it.

The key is remarkably similar to my last recommendation below, only without the Tomahawk missiles. You develop a concept of what type of attraction you want to build, where it will be located and what size it will be. Then, you level everything in that area. Not surprisingly, once people start showing up for the new attraction, the surrounding area recovers on its own. Restaurants and quaint shops replace bars and tattoo parlors.

Unfortunately, it won't happen here. Wilmington has neither the money nor inclination to tear down a part of downtown along the river and build something to truly bring in tourists from near and far. They think that the Azalea Festival(zzzzz....) and nearby beaches are all they need. They haven't yet figured out that the generation that ooh'd and ah'd about the Azalea Festival is rapidly dying off....but that's why there are so many bars: They need to have something to attract the younger folks away from the beaches.

So Wilmington will remain mired in the fantasy that old, ratty, buildings that get urinated upon every night by our thriving bum population are somehow historic, and that bars are better than empty buildings. Mysteriously, they'll be totally at a loss to explain why people continue spending their money at Mayfaire or along the College/Oleander corridors.

Interesting to note, however, that Norfolk built "Waterside" for less money than Wilmington is spending on that cockamamie convention center....

Yes, they did. However, let's look at some of the things Baltimore offers. Several Hotels in the area.. Good named restaurants in the area Cheese Cake Factory and Philips Seafood to name a couple. A museums and an aquarium in the area. Some great shops like Ann Taylor Loft, Levi's and I love the show at Marble Slab Creamery. So, there is more to go to in the downtown Baltimore area.

in Baltimore is a prime example of how a run-down area can be revitalized.

It would seem that most of you have never lived in a city before. Every city that I have ever lived in consists of stores, restaraunts, business offices, bars, night clubs... so on and so on. The point being that it takes a very eclectic mix of residential and commercial locales to make a downtown location work. To maintain this type of area requires active clean-up crews, intelligent law enforcement, and responsible citizens. Most of the time it seems we have none of these. If it's crime your worried about then move to..um..I..? Well if it is drunks your worried about then..???
I have lived in many cities around the world and the only way these work is with active involvement by everbody!!! So, get off your butts and do something. No solution is perfect, no answer works completely.
I have lived downtown for over 6 years and yes the crime bothers me, and sometimes it can get trashy. I pick up trash and throw it away and I walk in well lit highly trafficked areas. Use some common sense and help out. The shop keepers should stay open later. There should be more trash receptacles. we definitely need to light up more streets.
Be a responsible citizen and clean up after yourself. If you don't like leave. Have a nice day!SMB

take up the flipping meters...as long as there are meters downtown where I have to PAY THE CITY for the ability to shop...I REALLY have no need to go there...I can park for FREE at the mall, Mayfaire and MANY other places if I need something. Heck..I'll pass the sale to someone in California sitting in my chair from home before I would put ONE SINGLE QUARTER in a meter!

Removing the meters...humm Not such a smart idea. The college kids and the court attendees who are to cheap to pay for parking will take all the spots, not to mention the drunks that leave their vehicles over night, employees of downtown businesses etc.etc.

they made their choice then, didn't they...I'll stay away...

While we can all agree that Downtown is much better than it was during the nadir of the seventies and eighties, there are many problems that need to be addressed. I think many of the posters here have brought up some of these issues in a very intelligent manner. Parking is still an issue, and they need to stop the predatory towing that happens at night (thanks a lot Earls!). Further police foot patrols would be helpful, not just on the weekends, and they need to get rid of that one schizophrenic bum that walks up and down Front Street harassing people all day and all night. Keeping the sidewalks, building fronts, and streets clean are always a good idea. There are also a lot of dark areas downtown that lend themselves to crime and ambushes in particular the Parking deck near the Hilton. My friends who work or own businesses downtown complain about constant bureaucratic harassment from City Hall, as well as parking issues. Wilmington needs to offer incentives to bring more businesses, especially retail, goods and services, to the downtown area. Tax credits or incentives are always a welcome idea. Also, I do like the idea of being a tourist in your own hometown. I often take for granted the historical, architectural, and cultural attractions in this area. If you live in Wilmington and haven't been to places like Bellamy, the Battleship, the many gorgeous churches, go for the first time, or go back if you haven't been in the past ten years.It's well worth it!

I think there are four problems. One is the parking situation. It needs to be free in the evenings and on weekends. The second problems is related to all those bars. I tell you for an older person like me being downtown at night does not feel comfortable. I am not against the bars, but it has the feel of spring break. The third problem involves the type of shops. There is a need for more name retail stores. Most of those shops simply don't interest me especially during difficult economic times. And someone needs to watch the resturant management. The prices seem too high and there is often an attitude at some of the places that I can do without. Downtown is just not friendly to the average person.

I think there should be a foot patrol on the boardwalk by the Wilmington Police Department. I took a first date to Elijah's and we decided to stroll the boardwalk after dinner. Not long into our walk we were approached by young males on bicycles. They did not attempt to move to one side or the other and basically rode right through us. This reminded me of a similar problem last year with people being harassed by youths on bicycles.

However, at Mayfaire with onsite security, these situations are quickly addressed. You can stroll at your leisure without looking over your shoulder. The river view is nice and I would rather frequent downtown since Mayfaire is further.

What people "rediscover" about downtown is that nothing has changed to encourage return business. You may get them down there once, but the environment will persuade one to go elsewhere next time.

Mayfaire isn't right next to the ghetto. Downtown after dark is dangerous. We wont go down there and my husband is 6'4 and 270 lbs.

Last time we went it was a Sunday morning just to walk around. Couldn't believe all the bars and now tattoo parlors, talk about scummy.

"Doing It Downtown"...puking and urinating in alleys, fighting, and generally making Downtown Wilmington a place NOT to be after dark.

1. Tag-a-bum. Sign up groups of six tourists at $20.00 each and issue them paint guns with six colors of paintballs. When the bums show up at the shelter that night, the number of hits per color is tallied and the winner gets a free dinner (for one) at a downtown restaurant.

2. "Mister Gorbachev, tear down that wall...and let us borrow it." Build a twelve-foot high concrete wall topped with razor wire up Queen to Fifth, along Fifth and down Castle to the river. Fly tourists in by helicopter. Place gun turrets every two-hundred yards along Fifth. What crime problem?

3. Guess the vintage. Tourists will be taken to any of the downtown storefronts and alleys and asked to guess what the wino was drinking before he pee'd the previous night. Was it robert Duvall who said, "I love the smell of wino urine in the morning?"

4. "Headshop Sweep" for old hippies. Anyone born between 1948 and 1960 can enter to win a five minute "all you can loot for free" run through the headshops. How many tie-dyed t-shirts with peace signs and Bob Marley posters can YOU carry?

5. Name that restaurant! Another free dinner (for one) goes to the person who can list every name used in the past ten years for any restaurant on Market between Water and Second.

6. Historic Blight. An even free-er ride on one of those free "trolleys" (which look and smell suspiciously like buses without windows) to the contestant who can best describe exactly where the "Historic District" starts and the broken down hovel of an inner city ends. How can a free ride be even free-er? A free dinner (for one) to whoever can formulate an even half-way believable answer!

7. Speaking of one, how about "Fire One?" During the upcoming ship commissioning, the Navy accidentally launches a dozen Tomahawk TLAM-C or so, and we start all over from scratch. (Expect protests from PETA over killing the 3,867,415 rats that reside in the area.)

I have lots of great ideas. I'm working on one that will have local politicians spending an hour each in a dunking tank....but I'm having a hard time finding piranha....

common sense, you are a genius! I Loved reading that and you are so right! When people come to visit from out of town, I take them there and I often am not proud. I too am afraid to go there at night. It's funny, though, these things you mention are so obvious that I recognized every one of them. I want to know when someone is going to step up and put their foot down on the crime. These thugs are just walking from their hood into downtown to victimize the good folks who are just there to have a good time. Yet all I hear are arrests upon arrests upon arrests with no one in office admitting there is a problem. Am I the only one that sees it? Uggg! It's frustrating. Thanks again for that commonsense!

I vote for #2.

You have got to be one of the most bitter human beings on the planet. You must be an absolute joy to be around. No wonder you are always on message boards, no one can stand to be around you.

...another "downtowner" allergic to the truth about downtown?

My money says that anyone who has been downtown in recent memory will laugh at and agree with my suggestions....

...but if it upsets you...well...I can live with that!

Some people have trouble accepting reality.

Except that downtown has become a cesspool for drunks, thugs and criminals. Decent people wont go there at night and there is not much for us during the day. Unless I want to get drunk and get a tattoo I will be in the safer areas of town.....

If it wasn't for parking meters Downtown wouldn't have the funds to redo the streets or the sidewalks that really needed to be done for a long time. I can't believe people think that everything should be free.

Funny, isn't that what taxes are for already? If taxed money were properly managed, and not wasted....oh well, I think I faded into dreamland.

Just about every decent sized town or city has parking meters in their downtown areas. It targets some of the costs of maintaining the streets and sidewalks on the people who use the area the most, rather than raising taxes on everyone to cover it.

Right, but Wilmington has raised taxes on everyone and still has parking meters.

And when would be the last time Wilmington raised taxes? Except for having to raise them back to that "revenue neutral" amount (or whatever they called it) after the county messed up the property revaluation, taxes hadn't been raised in over 10 years.

Hey - I'm not thrilled about paying for parking or paying taxes either, but they are a necessary evil.

I agree the parking is a rip off. I received a ticket on a Saturday from a parking meter at 5:30. 5:30 on a Saturday evening? I know it was my mistake for not reading the meter but Front Street was a Ghost town and I thought the meters were free on Saturdays.
Meters should be free on all weekends and holidays. BTW it was a $15 fine.

I agree the crime rate downtwn is unacceptable, but if you come down here and get trashed, alone, you make yoursefl an easy target. Parking is free several times throughout the week downtown, here is the City's parkingwebpage, I use to find convenient parkin: http://www.wilmingtonnc.gov/city_manager/business_development/parking.as...
Trust me, if it wasn't for parking management, business owners would park on the street while thier customers would have to walk 2 blokcs to spend money in thier establishmnets. I have tested this theory myself, ask a business owner if parking on-street is free 1day, I did Christmas Eve and got the " if I knew it was free I would have parked out fromt" response.

I think they are free after 6PM. It really does suck to know a quarter in a meter would save you $15.

Downtown is a pretty place. I would never go down there at night, period. Always so much crime, all you ever read about in the paper is drunks, GI's & college age fighting, muggings, rapes, vehicle property thief's, and people hurt badly.

Parking is horrible and the cost is quite a bit. The meter maids will ticket you very quickly. I was on a job down there for 15 mins in a paid parking and was a min over and received a ticket. I got down there and talked to the guy and let him know what was going on. He said once I put it in the equipment there is nothing I can do. The prices are way to high for goods and services there. Its really just a tourist trap there.

I usually refused to do work down there or price it high based on the inconvenience I have to go through to do work there. If parking where alot better, with parking decks, and contractors who provide services where they able to get to and from easier to work, the prices would be lower. As of the way the situation is now, I know many other contractors and myself will either refuse to do work, or charge at higher prices.

Do it Downtown? Amusing, to say the least.

I was downtown last Saturday, and I walked the "business" section of Front Street from one end to the other. Well, the "business" was mostly grungy bars (with dirty windows) and tattoo parlors. Hardly inviting. A handful of appealing shops still exist downtown, but the explosion of bars has damaged the aesthetics of downtown and limited its shopping appeal.

When I've got shopping on my mind, I head to Mayfaire. So attractive and such a diversity of shops.