CITY BEAT: DOWNTOWN DECATUR IS MUCH DIFFERENT FROM WHAT IT WAS YEARS AGO
I don’t think it is any secret that I love downtown Decatur. I started my business in a small two-room office on the fifth floor of the Standard Office Building at 132 South Water Street in the 1960s. For those who may not know, or remember, the Standard Office Building is now the Millikin Court Building and after growing my publishing business in other ground-floor buildings downtown, we returned to the Millikin Court Building’s fourth floor a dozen years ago.
I mention the above information as proof that I’ve had, and continue to have, a longtime relationship and fascination with downtown Decatur.
However, the downtown area is far different than it was in the 1960s and, frankly, I miss all the hustle and bustle and countless retail stores and restaurants that once attracted so many people to the core area.
This week’s “Scrapbook” feature in the print and online editions takes another look at the downtown area of the 1940s when Decatur High School students, shoppers, visitors and businesspeople moved up and down the busy streets — a common sight until the high school was demolished in the early 1970s and several of the downtown anchor stores moved to the new Hickory Point Mall.
The photo on the front page of this week’s Decatur Tribune gives some insight of the activity high school students brought to downtown in the 1940s. Of course, times change and very few communities in our nation are the same as they were decades ago. Modern technology, changes in business operations and shopper habits have made it difficult, if not impossible, for core areas of cities like Decatur to not be impacted.
The downtown area of our city has been transformed into a different core area and we’ve been more fortunate than many cities our size in surviving as a downtown — although a much different one than decades ago. Many of you reading this column today, whether living in Decatur or somewhere else in the nation, have fond memories of those days when the high school was downtown and shopping in the core area was an all-day experience. You will especially enjoy this week’s “Scrapbook” on pages 4 and 5 of this week’s print and online editions.
• CARCASS CONCERN — Toni Stoner sent me the photo below and emailed me out of total frustration with…well…here’s what she wrote: “I’m wondering what does the city do exactly with our tax dollars! There has been a deer carcass around 835 South Franklin St. up ‘gainst an Ameren light pole for a week!!!! The night it happened, Tuesday night, my daughter called, then I called the next day, I had my daughter call again, then I called them again, and I called them (animal control) again!!
“Then last night, I called the after hours number, which goes to the sheriffs office. My sister, retired detective Carin Reed, called animal control and called the after hours number and the deer is still there with flies all over it. “I care for a four-month-old baby and it’s right to the south of my driveway and if one of those flies bites this child I don’t know how sick she might get.
“To me a dead animal on the side of the street, in the street, on the sidewalk is top priority! What do people think coming in from out of town and they see this dead deer?? I can almost guarantee that if this was in a different neighborhood or in Forsyth, or at the mayor’s house, it would’ve been removed the first night!!!”
I’m not sure how many days it took, but Toni Stoner had every right to be upset by the delay. I contacted Animal Control and Administrator Ron Atkins was quick to respond with the following statement: “Removal of dead animals is a function of animal control. Unfortunately due to an internal misunderstanding the deer you reference was left for several days before it was picked up. The employee that caused the delay has been educated and I hope not to have a repeat incident of this nature. If I can be of any other help don’t hesitate to reach out.”
From what Ron stated, he was aware of the situation and took corrective steps to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Thanks, Ron.
• SO SORRY to receive the news of the passing of Jim Ankrom last week. (His obituary is on page 20 of the print and online editions.) Jim and his wife, Carolyn, were extremely hard working in getting the word out in my campaign for my first term as mayor 20 years ago. In fact, the decision to run for the office was hatched at Caro-lyn’s Downtown Cafe on North Main Street over lunch one day. Condolences and prayers for Carolyn and their family and many friends. Jim was a good man and I’m sure he will be missed. It seems we’ve been losing a lot of good men and women in Decatur the past few years.
• CUPOLA UPDATE — A. G. Webber sent me an update on the “Save the Cupola” project at Woodrow Wilson. He wrote: “I have been in touch with officials at both District 61 and the City of Decatur. All seem supportive or interested in the idea. City staff have been especially helpful, even checking with the Fire Department to see if a ladder truck could be used (sorry, it can’t).
“The project will be discussed with the demo contractor in a meeting this coming week. Hopefully since only the copper cladding at the very top is involved, it will be doable.
“Maybe one of your readers is a steeplejack willing to volunteer on a historic preservation project.”
Thanks, A. G. for the update. The project to save the cupola seems to be moving ahead.
. • I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00 for the City Hall Insider. to discuss the issues confronting Decatur and Central Illinois ..— a conversation we’ve been having about every Thursday morning for the past 20 years.