Recently I was in Commerce and decided to head to the downtown area. I swung by the old Cow Hill Express Coffee like I had done so many times in my undergraduate days where I studied, did homework, used the WIFI and took in a great coffee drink. None of that happened. I see the building is dark and the business is closed. I started to look around and noticed that there are more empty buildings. Most are filled, but a lot of downtown offices are empty. I just had to sigh.
The next thing I did was decide to head back to Dallas and swing by Live Oak and see what new businesses were there, then I saw two old structures that had been there being demolished. I had only one thought.
Good. Tear it down.
Commerce for years has had problems with code enforcement. A town that is 144 years old (yes, you are reading that correctly) is going to. With the exponential growth of the University, the time to start flushing out the undesirable elements of the town has been a long time coming, and all it will do is to benefit the University and the town as a whole, not to mention the region.
Former Commerce mayor John Baliotti, in my opinion, was doing a great job in finding structures that were old and abandoned and knocking them down and either having the lots sold or at least making sure that they would never be an eyesore again, but the town as a whole needs to be taken a look at, so lets look at every part that can be used to improve the town and our University.
- The school itself is actually the gem of the town, so keeping it looking sharp is of utmost importance. Now, this has not been a problem, especially the past 5-6 years when we have built a brand new housing facility, new student center, new music building and performing arts center, renovated the old quad by turning it into a garden and continue to renovate buildings like the Halladay Student assistance Building and the Young Education Building. Also, the complete rebuilding of Monroe and Lee streets, which both serve as a defacto border between the the school’s eastern boundary and the city, has really helped improve the appeal, plus the 2010 renovation of the stadium has done so much for the appearance of the school and having one of the best stadiums in the conference helps a lot. The University was rated by the SACS as a “super modern” institution because the average age of the building is less than a decade in a lot of cases. Keeping the school looking great will help tremendously.
- The Downtown area is an area that has improved a lot, but still needs a lot of work. I was recently in Celina for their annual crawfish festival and the area was so inviting. To me, it embodied everything a growing town should have. The town square in Commerce has improved aesthetically with the painting of murals on the sides of buildings, but there is a lot more opportunity to be create an appealing downtown area. The lofts at the corner at Main and Washington are a big draw, and so long as the area continues to build up, there is a ton of potential. One thing I wish I could see more of is more spirit for both the University and the High School. Having Lion and Tiger paws and prints littering the businesses would be great and really perk up the downtown area. The biggest thing that needs to happen is to really make the Downtown area the hub for the activities of the city and University. It should be a place where students go to eat, get taxes done (hey, it is Tax day and I am an investment banker), bank, go for a cup of coffee, meet up with friends to socialize, find a place to work part-time if they cannot find a job on campus or want an off campus job, and it should have a feeling of a hub where activity is buzzing around. The new city hall that was built has helped out a lot with the look of the area, but having the Bois d’Arc Bash become a major attraction where people can come once a year and see the town and what it has to offer will be a great boost to the appeal of the school, and the town.
- Community policing. One of my best friends from my undergrad days is a LAPD cop. He is now a detective, but started out as a patrolman. When he was doing patrol, the emphasis was on community policing which basically means to watch and make life very unpleasant for criminals and local ne’er do wells, and like every town, Commerce has its share of them. Now the latest crime statistics for Commerce show that Commerce has a “low to average”, basically meaning that Commerce has no more crime than your average town, which is quite remarkable. When you factor in the fact that Commerce has a very large population of young people, there is likely to be more crime in regards to alcohol, drugs, petty theft, and assault. The cops in Commerce do a good job of keeping the town safe and they look to be on the prowl for keeping the undesirables out and flushing them out when given the chance.
- Neighborhoods around the downtown area are the oldest and therefore they have the highest potential for becoming bad-looking. A lot of families have been raised in Commerce and left for bigger cities or other places and just left the house to either to be rented or just leave them dilapidated. The town’s code enforcement has been on the war path the past couple of years in trying to get those eyesores out, and I will have to say that seeing a piece of trash house go down into pieces makes me happy, and no, it has nothing to do with poverty, it is about pride. Remember the days when people took care of their house and property out of a sense of pride regardless of income? That needs to happen, and the purpose of code enforcement is to make sure the town looks good, and I do not care how militant the officers have to be. I live in a gated community of condos and apartment homes and the reason the grounds are kept clean is because we have strict enforcement, and those who lease face eviction while those who own or lease to own face stiff fines for not keeping their place in good order. Do the same in Commerce.
- Ever heard of the broken windows theory? It is a social science theory that says by taking care of the little things (like a broken window), the big things (economy, infrastructure, attitudes) will come around. In other words, we are going to look good until we feel good, and then we will do good and be good. This happened in New York city in the 1990’s under Mayor Rudy Guilliani, and guess what? It worked! Crime plummeted, school ratings went up, neighborhoods became safer and more appealing, and the best part, the NYC economy boomed in those areas. That is what is going to bring citizens to the community, and Commerce has that potential. Aside from being a college town, it is also a retirement town, but also has the chance to be a good bedroom community as towns like Rockwall, Greenville, and the eastern edges of Dallas and Collin county and the western parts of Hunt county continue to explode, and as that growth from the immediate Dallas area continues to creep up I-30 and Highway 66, the chance to bring more people to Commerce exists and should be happening. More residents brings in more businesses, and more businesses bring more revenue, and that brings a good attitude about living where you are at, regardless as to why you are there.
The school started taking out the trash by kicking out students who did not need to be in college and the athletic department followed suit by recruiting good athletes from good families. The town needs to follow suit, and all it takes is starting by fixing a few broken windows.
This needs to happen so the next time I am in Commerce, I can grab a cup of that magical elixir known as Cow Hill Coffee.