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by Adam Letterman

Editor's note: Who thought the heyday of Park Central Square was in the 1980s? It all depends on your perspective. Most Springfieldians think of the 1960s-and-before square, with its bustling retail business and active entertainment venues, as the zenith of the square.

For 19-year-old Adam Letterman, those times don't mean much, as they came before his birth. Adam is a freshman at Southwest Missouri State University with the intention to major in journalism. He is a 1997 graduate of Central High School and a lifelong Springfield resident.

As the Feb. 3 vote on increasing Springfield's room tax from 2 cents to 4 1/2 cents approached, Adam submitted the following essay on what downtown means to him and his hopes for the area. Revenue from the room-tax increase would fund multiple projects downtown, including the civic park, an ice rink and funds for capital improvements to the Gillioz and Landers theaters, and the Discovery Center.

I can remember when my friend Seth and I were kids. We both lived in the middle of town, and a kid can play Nintendo only so many times during the summer.

Both our mothers and fathers worked during the days, so we didn't have a ride to anyplace "fun" or "interesting." There was only one alternative. We would get on our bikes and head downtown for a day of excitement.

We could spend all day roaming around Olde Towne, the big antique store and flea market. We would run all over Heer's, riding the elevators up and down, over and over. We would walk into the Wall of Fame and just pore over the baseball cards, wishing we could buy some and then realizing that we couldn't. For about four years, this was the only thing that kept us from going insane.

But now it's changed. It's been a long time since I've seen Seth, but that's beside the point. Downtown has changed. Olde Towne is closed, and so is the Wall of Fame. The square has signs up everywhere that say, "No Loitering." The Heer's building sits empty, and many of its shop windows are boarded up. The square, in a lot of ways, is dead.

But it doesn't have to be that way. The potential for the downtown area is huge. I realize I don't have any studies or financial figures on the feasibility of an economic resurgence in the area, but I do know that it is begging for attention.

There are many beautiful buildings down there that are up for the making. All they need is an idea. Oh, and some cash and work, too.

I recently read a letter in the newspaper in which the author asked all the people who were crying for the Colonial to work toward the preservation of other buildings in the area. I couldn't agree more. Several buildings have been renovated on Boonville, McDaniel, and on the square itself, and they are now prime financial investments.

It doesn't have to stop there. Recreational facilities could be started on one of the many sites downtown, and I am sure that they would do well. I believe that the success of the many clubs and bars around the square clearly illustrates that people are ready to go downtown for entertainment and recreation.

I have a few other ideas as well. I know that no one asked for them, but here they are anyway.

?The Gillioz Theatre. It's great that it is being refurbished, but it would be a unique feature and attraction to the downtown area if, maybe even only one night a week, the theater would show vintage films.

Classics such as "Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz," "Casablanca" and "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" could be seen by a set of people that never had the ability to see these legends on the big screen. Would this draw crowds? Answer: see the boffo box office of the recently re-released "Star Wars" trilogy.

?SMSU recently completed work on a small roller-hockey rink on its campus. This is a great idea, and it could be taken one step further. An ice-hockey rink should be built downtown. This would provide yet another recreational outlet for those who like rollerblading and would like to try their hand at ice skating. Also, it could be used as a step toward getting a minor league hockey franchise, which would greatly benefit the town in tourism and revenue, as well as adding to the stature of Springfield.

?Promote business expansion downtown instead of southward. If we keep moving south, we will eventually reach Branson and be engulfed by Shoji and other country music stars. Yet we leave prime land and opportunity behind.

There are already established economic bases in the area, as well as a vast pool of people. And don't forget, retro is in fashion, and how much more retro can you get than older buildings?

I spent the better part of my childhood at the square, and it pains me to see it die when it could be so much more. All that is needed is for some brave soul (or a majority of brave souls who vote Feb. 3) to take the first step, and there is no telling where we could go with that.

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