DOWNTOWN: All we need to revitalize downtown is a flux capacitor

The other day, and by that I mean today, the Odessa American started running a series on downtown Odessa, what it was, is and might one day be.

It’s a project that really grew out of the mind of city editor and fellow columnist Celinda Hawkins, who has her childhood and inherited family memory to draw on, but it’s funny because in my lifetime, downtown hasn’t been anything, and I hate the northeast sprawl more than most anyone I know.

And I suppose that’s because I hate Midland and Midlanders. Not in a mean way, mind you, just the, “Oh you’re from Odessa? I’m sorry,” you often get when someone from Midland finds out you’re from Odessa. To the rest of the country — to the rest of the state outside of the Permian Basin, really — we’re Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but then it’s probably our similarities that make us make so much of our differences.

So, naturally, I hate the creeping toward Midland and promises of its economic table scraps nearly as much as the Tall City itself. It feels like groveling, all the while getting sand kicked in your face.

“Of course you can have mansions. But they’ll pay taxes to Midland County. And pay more taxes to get to go to schools in Ector County ISD, even when the nearest school is twice as close as Midland ISD. And of course you can have a country club. But we’ll be sure to put half of it in Midland County, too. Along with your best apartment complexes.”

And the Parks Legado Town Center is a great idea, I’m sure, and will be a very nice place. But how much of a nuisance are train sounds, really? And how nice would it be to pour tens of millions into an area centered on Second Street and Dotsy Avenue, where you didn’t need to put in new roads or utilities?

I’m not an idiot. Financially, I know it makes sense and the Sewell dream is underpinned with economic realities that are entirely, unquestionably valid. I know the exodus from downtown is really no one in particular’s fault, just millions of people and coincidences in mostly tiny ways.

Odessa is where it is because of the railroad. It grew for being at the right spot on the line and central enough between Crane/McCamey and Andrews oil to send traffic both ways. The Interstate replaced the railroad for east and west; U.S. 385 made the connection stronger between north and south. But it did so close enough to Midland and the county line that the impetus and magnetism always was north and east for newer and richer.

Ha! Grant Avenue killed downtown.

At some point in history, Goldsmith may have wrestled the courthouse away, but geography was too much agin’ it to supplant Odessa. Penwell and other camps were too young, and missed their chance.

But you know, somewhere in the multiverse there’s probably a reality where it isn’t that way and U.S. 385 hitches west a little to run where FM 1601 is now before heading through Goldsmith on its way to Andrews. In that alternate reality, Penwell is a little smaller than Odessa is now, Goldsmith is a lot bigger than it is now, and Odessa is basically like West Odessa is now.

(Not in a bad way, you understand; I just mean practically unincorporated and well, you know.)

In this reality, we’re stuck trying to invent a time machine, which probably isn’t feasible; trying to lure hipsters away from Marfa, which won’t happen as long as we have Walmarts and a courthouse that isn’t near as pretty as Presidio County’s; and trying to convince the gays to come in and gentrify and redecorate by osmosis for us. Which, well, is a less than zero probability only in the strictly statistical sense, and I expect most people to throw their money behind the time machine.

But it would be nice and I’d remind everyone Liz Lambert graduated from Permian and helped turn Marfa and the South Congress area in Austin into what they are today, in part inspired by memories of her grandfather at the Lincoln Hotel/Inn of the Golden West and its Golden Rooster Club. So the seed of great things is not only possible but homegrown.

People may one day be excited about things in Odessa other than franchises. Or that may be in some other reality.

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