Our Facebook Live video.
The email went out Tuesday or Wednesday. Downtown merchants were asked to assemble at Town Green by 9 a.m. Thursday on a chamber-of-commerce morning in front of the Forum River Center for what we thought was a pep rally. Monday night, the City Commission gave final approval to three hours of free parking on downtown streets and a relaxed enforcement period now set for 8 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays
The merchants assembled, many with props in hand or on their backs. Mellow’s Mushroom was there. The owner of Jamwich held a sign encouraging folks to “eat weird.” Young dancers or aerialists were standing on friends’ shoulders. The gang from Greene’s Jewelers had matching T-shirts. There was even a lounging dog.
Once assembled, the Downtown Development Authority’s Megan Treglown organized them as a videographer stood by. They learned their lines and adjusted their positions.
“Downtown is open for business.”
“We can’t wait to see you downtown.”
Taping started, vocals, break and again. It was over in two or three takes and the finished product should be posted on the downtown Facebook page soon.
It was a kumbaya moment, organized with the intent of getting frustrated customers back to stores and restaurants and such. The intent was quite real as some owners Thursday morning repeated their concerns about business dropping in recent weeks in response to the city of Rome’s huge fumble on downtown parking enforcement. Coupled with a backlash to the duplicated smoking ordinance, tearful merchants were telling city commissioners about their livelihoods being in jeopardy at recent meetings.
It took almost 14 months but a majority of the commissioners finally listened to the owners and customers, and not to each other. A May 20 vote basically did away with parking regulations that were clamped on downtown customers just hours earlier. Monday night’s vote made it official. For now, that is, as they digest data from the license plate reading mobile. Don’t forget that kiosks — paid parking — remains on the table. But that’s another fight.
Damage and spin control began Tuesday with smiling photos of new parking signs being placed on 45 outdated ones at a near-record pace. Thursday’s video shoot was more of the same and it needed to be. The community needs to know their voices, coupled with the merchants, finally dented City Hall and the City Commission.
The recovery is under way.
Actually, it has just begun. As the video shoot ended and merchants began to gather in groups of three or four, you could hear the “what’s next” conversations under way. The administrators and department heads and city commissioners who didn’t listen until things reached a crisis point weren’t part of the Town Green celebration on Thursday. Nor should they have been; it was perhaps a dose of therapy for those hurt by strong-armed politics.
But now it the time to deal with those who created the problem to ensure it doesn’t happen again.