What to do about having more business in downtown Batavia is a perennial topic of conversation in Batavia.
It's been joined by concern for some empty big-box store spaces on Randall Road.
Candidates for alderman in the 4th Ward -- which covers much of northeastern Batavia -- have ideas on what should be done. Three people are seeking the post, which is being vacated by Tom Schmitz. They are Edward Tousana, 72, of Lathem Street; Jamie Saam, 27, of Columbia Street; and Susan Stark, 53, of Washington Avenue.
Stark isn't so much worried about business on Randall. Its vacancy rate isn't any worse in Batavia than it is in the rest of the Tri-Cities, she said. She doesn't like the appearance of the businesses on the northern end of Route 25 in the 4th Ward (the area includes a burger restaurant and several automotive businesses), and said they are disconnected from other Batavia businesses by not belonging to the Chamber of Commerce.
"It makes the entry of the 4th Ward look unattractive," she said.
Tousana believes offering tax incentives to businesses would help -- and that would mean more employees, who in turn would use other businesses in town.
"The first two years (of a business' life) are going to be rough in general in any area," he said.
Saam agreed with Tousana about offering tax incentives (which Batavia does). She believes the downtown has enough insurance agencies and offices, and that does not help generate foot traffic for stores and restaurants. She suggested offering incentives to get businesses that are established elsewhere, such as a wine store or jeweler, to move to the downtown. That would "prove businesses can survive down there," she said, encouraging other businesspeople. She also favors building a parking garage like St. Charles did in its First Street renovation, with stores and offices included. "It's beautiful," she said.
Foot traffic is key to the health of the downtown, Tousana said. That means a more urban feel, having businesses whose doors are close to sidewalks, not with parking lots in front of them.
"A big lot in front of a strip mall is archaic for a downtown area," he said.
"... Strip malls are great, but on the outer areas."
Stark agreed that making the downtown more pedestrian-friendly might help. She noted, however, that Batavia is geographically different from some of the downtowns it is compared to (such as Geneva, Naperville and Downers Grove) in that there is no commuter train line running through it.
"Batavia has got to work with what it's got," Stark said, pointing out the Fox River and the arts community that is trying to establish itself with Water Street Studios (an effort Saam supports). She also thinks that not every downtown business closure can be blamed on location; some, for example, may have been undercapitalized to start.
But Stark agrees with Tousana about the presence of at least one of the three strip malls in the downtown. Asked what she would do if made ruler for a day of Batavia, "I would rip down that hideous shopping center" on the northwest corner of Island Avenue and Wilson Street, and replace it with a mixed-use building.
That's where a developer last year proposed to build a recreation center, store complex and parking deck.