Driving downtown? Check your shock absorbers

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Column by Jim Clark

For years, I’ve been questioning some of the moves made in downtown Ocala. I wondered whether some of them serve the majority of residents in this area.

When I moved here almost 20 years ago (and my folks lived here long before that), the Square was the focal point of downtown. There were some great gatherings and festivals, crowds abounded and the area seemed to flourish.

Gradually, things started to change, not necessarily for the better. Not necessarily in chronological order are:

City Hall area was renovated and Citizens’ Circle was created, complete with a stage. The area is easily enclosed, and therefore admission can be charged (ah, yes, the almighty dollar), but the place was terribly inaccessible. It also meant that downtown events could be expanded for several blocks, not an advantage for a community dominated by senior citizens. The splash pad, however is a good idea.

The St. Patrick’s Day festival was dropped. It was, to me, one of the most popular. The excuse at the time was the lack of a sponsor. With all the vendors and the food and beer that was being sold, it seemed that some of these folks should have kicked in enough dollars (there’s that word again) to keep it going.

A parking garage was built, a nice facility to be sure, but again a little far from the Square. It should have been built on the lot where the Christmas tree and ice skating rink are placed, but, hey, that land can be wold for a hotel or something (again that dollar).

New parking meters were installed, infuriating everyone. They seem to have been made easier, though.

Now comes another project, one I cannot justify in any way. A brick block from Broadway to Fort King along Magnolia Avenue was created.

We ran pictures of it, and it is beautiful ... until you drive on it. Have your shock absorbers checked and make sure you wear something like a mouthguard to keep your teeth from rattling. How the city engineers approved the opening of this road is beyond me.

The next big event I enjoy is Light Up Ocala, held in November, during which the tree and all the beautiful lights on the Square are lit for the holidays. It’s a crowded event, featuring a children’s parade which has been adopted by Scouts (but schools are not generally represented). Someday there may be something built on the lot where the tree and ice skating rink are, and who knows what they’ll do then.

Of course, there’s no guarantee those buildings will happen. Months ago, we were promised a barbecue place downtown. I’m still waiting.

Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen and the West Marion Messenger.