Dear Mayor Bailey,
Congratulations are in order for your mayoral victory last year! We hope you are finding your new office comfortable, and wish you the best of luck in undertaking your new duties.
As you know, the end of an era has come to the city of Riverside. During last year’s elections, Mayor Ronald O. Loveridge decided not to pursue a sixth term as mayor, leaving the mayor’s desk vacant for the first time in nearly 20 years. Now that you sit in the mayor’s chair, you have the authority, the power and the responsibility to chart Riverside’s future course through the tempest of an 11.3% projected unemployment rate and a state that continues to make cuts to ensure its own solvency.
If this economic pattern continues, Riverside will surely founder and lie at the bottom of the sea, serving to be only an example of what might have been. Yes, the worst of the storm has past. But economic recovery is fragile, and any small mistake could very well sink the ship of the fair S.S. Riverside.
So what is to be done to maintain Riverside’s economic growth? The answer is simple: engage a demographic that composes a significant portion of Riverside’s population. A group of people that are eager to go out and spend money at the places that appeal to them. A group of people central to Riverside’s identity as a college town: students.
Riverside is home to four major institutions of higher education, and people ages 24 and younger compose 42.3 percent of the city of Riverside’s total population. But there is very little in Downtown Riverside to encourage us to travel there. The Mission Inn is beautiful and historic, but you can only visit it so many times before it becomes repetitive. Where does a starving college student go to eat—Mario’s Place? La Trattoria? Phood on Main? None of these places are very sensitive to a college student’s budget. And an after-dinner entertainment jaunt by watching “Nunset Boulevard” at the Fox Performing Arts Center is out of the question.
Riverside students live in a state of limbo, where they are neither rejected nor welcomed by the city at large. We would readily take the trip downtown if only there was something to attract us there. Mayor Bailey, your plan to build street cars to shuttle people to and from universities and business centers is a great start, and we eagerly anticipate its implementation. But it will not have the desired impact if there is no reason for students to leave the university in the first place.
To that end, you should pair the construction of this new streetcar system with a revitalization of the downtown area, one designed with students in mind. The goal should be to create a center for shopping, entertainment, eating and relaxation in much the same spirit as Victoria Gardens, where students come downtown to relax and have lunch with friends before shopping at the great variety of stores Riverside has brought downtown. Riverside has the perfect climate and atmosphere for an outdoor shopping mall—it even has the business space in the Main Street mall—why not bring a Victoria Gardens to Riverside?
We should also improve the desolate wasteland situated between Downtown Riverside and UCR, otherwise known as University Avenue. The lack of anything interesting for students to do essentially builds an invisible wall between UCR and the rest of Riverside, with students rarely venturing beyond Iowa Avenue. Bringing a large retailer like Target to that open area would begin dismantling that wall. And instituting the streetcar system would tear another hole through it.
The first thing to do is to attract students downtown. And nothing is as strong a magnet for hungry students as delicious and inexpensive food. Riverside should fill its empty buildings with eateries and bars that serve well-priced fare in a casual atmosphere. Downtown restaurants are frequently stifling and expensive. And most restaurants near UCR resemble a place to order take-out more than a place to relax and catch up with friends. This leaves an opening for a third option that meets both halfway and provides students the ability to sit down in a comfortable eatery but doesn’t make them afraid to pick up the check. What’s more, these new restaurants should provide a variety of food—hamburgers and chicken strips sometimes just don’t cut it. An eatery that is able to distinguish itself by serving unique creations at a low price will attract dedicated patronage from crowds of starving students.
Having new and varied eateries will lure students downtown. But to entice students to stay, Riverside needs to provide entertainment after dinner is done. The Fox Performing Arts Center is a good start, but too often its shows are geared toward an older audience. Riverside should seek newer artists for the Fox Performing Arts Center or another venue with a general admission floor layout. Doing so would also attract people from out of town to experience all that Riverside has to offer.
And there’s more to entertainment than just music. A comedy club would be a new and unique feature of Riverside that the city could tout—as of now, the nearest comedy club is all the way in Ontario. It would also provide an opportunity for aspiring comics from UCR and elsewhere to gain name recognition and hone their technique. Riverside already has a flourishing creative arts community, and the addition of comedy into the fold will strengthen it even more.
These efforts would only build on what former Mayor Loveridge achieved during his two decade-long tenure. In 2012, Riverside was named by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) as the Most Intelligent City in the World for its technological prowess. The Green Action Plan was released in 2007, the end result being an expansion in the use of solar power and more green energy. All this has led to more people flocking to Riverside, with the Riverside-San Bernardino metropolitan area experiencing the fifth-highest population growth out of any metropolitan region in the country.
Clearly, much has been accomplished. But much has still yet to be done. For the first time in 20 years, Ron Loveridge is no longer mayor—you are. It is your turn, Mayor Bailey, to leave a positive, lasting impact on our city. Riverside should aspire to be a jewel in the midst of a parched desert. And you as mayor have the unique opportunity to ensure that the cutting and polishing of that jewel result in a shining example of what a city can and should be. Mayor Bailey, you can tear down that invisible wall between UCR and downtown.
Congratulations once again on your victory. We look forward to seeing what you accomplish as Riverside’s mayor.
The Highlander Editorial Board