EDITORIAL: Mayor's goal is fine, leadership is needed

It’s easy to react cynically to Mayor Patty Cohen’s presentation last week of her downtown revitalization ideas. After all, many similar proposals have failed through the years. But give her a break. At least she’s trying.

Oak Harborites have tried many times to create a vibrant downtown, but with little success. Mayor Cohen proposed a “Navy town” theme, which may or may not be acceptable to the community. More importantly, she called for a change in attitude, and encouraged the city council to get more directly involved in the revitalization effort.

The city should indeed take the lead in revitalizing the downtown and waterfront area. Keep working on that public pier, which is the one proposal that virtually everyone seems to support. Then study thoroughly the possible incentives the city may be able to offer businesses to locate in the downtown area and succeed when they get there. Perhaps ways can be found to encourage property owners to upgrade their buildings while retaining their historic character.

The mayor should take the lead and tell the council what specific steps should be considered. What tax breaks can the city offer, and is there state or federal assistance available? Revitalizing downtown areas has been a focus of local, state and federal government for decades, so programs to help in this effort already exist. Just find out what’s possible, discuss the ideas in public, and then take some concrete action to make it happen. And make sure the public is fully informed along the way. The reluctance to change cited by the mayor may simply be an unwillingness to accept new ideas that come seemingly from out of nowhere. Discuss everything in public from the beginning and then the “new ideas” won’t seem all that new when the time comes to make decisions.

Oak Harbor with its waterfront setting has the potential to have an outstanding downtown. But it will take hard work, focus and leadership from the top to make it happen. We’re all waiting for Mayor Cohen to suggest what we should do next.

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