Editorial: Downtown after dark

Oak Harbor’s leaders have spent years trying to improve downtown Oak Harbor and make it more attractive to visitors, but their vision has largely been confined to the daytime: How to improve shopping opportunities, how to beautify the area, how to make regulations more business-friendly. Planning seems to stop when the shops close at 5 p.m.

However, you can’t have a pleasant downtown if nighttime activities are unsavory or even dangerous. Earlier this month two people were injured, one seriously, in a shooting incident outside the new night club. Last year, gunshots were heard near another night spot. Police found six spent shell casings on the ground but not the perpetrator.

Anyone who spends a night in the downtown area would be surprised by the sounds and sights. People loiter noisily on the streets, due perhaps to the law that requires smoking outdoors. Cars with loud exhaust systems and boom boxes cruise up and down Pioneer Way. Tempers fueled by alcohol lead to fist fights on a regular basis, sometimes involving groups of people.

For citizens who want to remake downtown Oak Harbor, the goings-on at night are not a pretty sight, and they’re an obstacle to creating a downtown that’s a fine place to visit and a great place to spend the night. The city has been trying to attract a new hotel for years, but who wants to build a hotel where guests are afraid to go out at night? The streets should be attractive, with fine dining opportunities, a theater and musical venues. Visitors should not have to cross the street to avoid a group of drunks or use earplugs to get to sleep at night.

The problem should be addressed openly and seriously. Nobody should be run out of business or out of town, but plans must be made for the long-term. More ordinances may be needed to control behavior. Perhaps incentives can be developed to encourage purveyors of hard alcohol to move elsewhere, possibly to Goldie Road. The city has a lot of bright people at its disposal, it’s time to develop some bright ideas.

Downtown Oak Harbor at night is a serious problem in search of a solution. The sooner we get started on it the better.

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