The day before Debbie Winn took the oath of office on Jan. 16 to become a new Tooele City councilwoman, she agreed to an interview with the Transcript-Bulletin to discuss what she hopes to achieve. Although what she said we have heard from other city leaders in the past, her words in this particular instance carry considerable weight. In fact, they resonate.
Besides promising to conduct her council duties with integrity, Winn offered what could become a fresh start for revitalizing business and community interest in Tooele’s historic downtown. It could even be perceived as a worthy challenge that any conscionable business or property owner on Main Street between 200 South and Utah Avenue should find difficult to ignore.
Published in a page one, Jan. 17 story titled, “Winn takes oath of office,” the new councilwoman said: “I know that a lot of things have been tried, but it’s going to take more than just me, or the city council, or mayor, to try something else. Property owners, and tenants renting the buildings, need to combine efforts and really commit and care about the area, so that they can work together to create something good.”
She stressed that in order for good things to happen, communication between business owners, property owners and city leaders must improve.
“I would hope we could bring in some new enthusiasm. It’s important to get all the [stakeholders] together to go over ideas, and follow up with action on those ideas,” Winn offered.
What makes those words ring with laudable resonance? First, they’re not deadened by self-serving excuses or blame; instead, they’re focused on consensus building, developing mutually responsible partnerships for progress and change. Secondly, they’re filled with verbs that speak of direct, purposeful action, such as “combine,” “commit,” “care,” “work” and “create.” Lastly, she ties it all together with a vital human emotion for fueling big civic projects: enthusiasm.
As the former executive director of the Tooele County Chamber of Commerce, Winn understands the challenges the city’s historic downtown faces to return to a vibrancy not seen in decades. So too does the rest of the council and Mayor Patrick Dunlavy. Yet, how do they get property owners, business owners and themselves to turn old downtown into a marquee place where future businesses will want to be — and where consumers will want to go — instead of to the city’s north end? Of course, money, and lots of it, will be required. But again, Winn offers a simple, yet necessary and realistic first step to convert inertia into movement: Communication between business owners, property owners and city leaders must improve.
Revitalizing historic downtown has been a flash point between city leaders and property and business owners for years. Much has been said and much has been tried to bring all parties together, but regrettably, little has been accomplished except for tiresome, expedient blame gaming. But that can’t discourage new attempts or justify continued inertia. Tooele’s historic downtown holds great promise of being so much more than what it is today. The potential is palpable as you walk along its sidewalks, or are cheerfully greeted by a merchant.
Winn’s words about historic downtown have indeed been heard before. But change rarely comes quickly. Sometimes pleas for change have to be said numerous times, by other than the same person, before they ignite direct, inspired action that gets the job done — no matter how intimidating or big the effort.
Besides repetition, sometimes it just boils down to timing. Perhaps now is the time for a true renaissance of Tooele’s old downtown? Perhaps now everyone is ready to care, commit and collaborate to unlock the area’s long-dormant potential and create something good.
Tooele City leaders and property and business owners are enthusiastically encouraged to lean forward and find out.