Friday, August 22, 2014

Project Space had Bike Art this Summer; Liberty Plaza's Auto-centric Design

Liberty Plaza downtown is pretty dead. Sure, it's got the Starbucks on the corner of Liberty and Chemeketa, but even with the tanning salon and a couple of other stores, it's really not very lively inside.

Liberty Plaza is in the old Lipman's Department Store
Salem Library Historic Photos, image circa 1956
The building was the old Lipmans department store, which became Frederick & Nelson around 1980. It's been heavily remodeled since, and like many other department stores that became indoor malls, it struggled.

You have to go up to the second floor
This summer the Salem Art Association is using two of its vacant storefronts for the summer Project Space series of gallery shows.

Significantly, unlike last year, when the space was street level on highway 22, these are second floor spaces, and you don't just walk by them and go "oh yeah, I wanted to see this." You have to hunt for them. Fortunately there are sidewalk tent signs, but you still have to hunt.

Unfortunately, even with the signs, because the location wasn't street level, it kept slipping the mind, and there were at least two shows of bike art that have come and gone. Did you happen to check them out?

Bike Art at the June 20 reception - Salem Art Association

More, at the July 2 reception - SAA
Apart from the art, the site is interesting - but maybe not in a good way. One of the features of Liberty Plaza is the network of skybridges. Everyone has seen the bridge over Chemeketa that connects Liberty Plaza to JC Penney.

But did you know there's also a bridge connection to the Chemeketa Parkade? (If you walk and bike most places, why would you.)

Skybridge between Liberty Plaza and Chemeketa Parkade
(But does it make you feel protected from the elements
 or do you feel imprisoned by the gridded windows?)
As we continue to debate parking policy downtown, Liberty Plaza poses a question: If scads of free parking and shelter from the elements is necessary for retail success, why is this space not prospering? I mean, you basically don't have to leave the parking garage to shop here.

The inability of this building to be leased out and full of prosperous merchants is, I think, evidence that sidewalk life and foot-traffic matters and that the immediate proximity to free parking is overrated.

Summer's almost over!
(Postscript: Should have included and connected the story of Greenbaum's stand against Lipman's parking lot expansion!)


Susann Kaltwasser said...

I have to agree with you that the debate over parking downtown is not really the issue. Lately I have been thinking about why I do not go downtown to shop or to have a meal. I do go to Kohl's and to a meeting now and then downtown, but nothing else.

I admit that due to physical constraints I sledom walk very far from my car when I make these trips, but even if I felt able to walk further, I never seem to have the need because whether pay or free, parking in Salem is not much of an issue.

So, why do I not go there much?

My first thought is that basically I do not go there because I don't actually know what is there to see or do. I drive through downtown all the time and I can see a few things from Center that I can hardly miss like the Dress for Less sign (which by the way I am never going to go into as a protest to the sign...which also means that I will likely never go into the stores in that part of the Center, because I am not going to even walk through DRL!). I know a few businesses that have been there for years, but for the most part I have no clue what is downtown.

So, what would make me stop someplace new or decide to explore the area?

I tried to find a web page that would give me like a map of the downtown, but have yet to find it.

I am not drawn by special events because it means crowds and I hate crowds.

Maybe this issue needs to be further explored. I am not sure that the business pwners have the answers either, because they don't seem to be doing anything nre to fix the problem.

Laurie Dougherty said...

I was out of town and just catching up with SBOB. Susann, I understand that you are an influential member of Salem Community Vision and that SCV claims, by and large, to represent the views of the Salem community. Taking that at face value, your comment confirms my first and lasting impression of Salem - that Salem is a city in name only. In reality Salem thinks, looks and acts like a suburb and that's the way, by and large, that people here want it.

I find this very depressing because cities are so much more efficient than suburbs in use of land, energy and infrastructure. Cities foster diversity, creativity, tolerance, and a culture of shared resources and facilities: multi-unit dwellings and commercial buildings, parks, transit, third places, museums. Cities are the way of the 21st century and Salem is stuck in the 1950s.