Editorial: Can North El Paso be Tech’s Dickson Street?

Editorial: ed·i·to·ri·al
[ed-i-tawr-ee-uhl, -tohr-] noun:
An article that represents the official viewpoint
of a newspaper on a topic of public interest.

During her inauguration speech last semester, Dr. Robin Bowen’s hopeful remarks about turning North El Paso into Russellville’s version of Dickson Street sent a buzz through the student body, particularly on Twitter, where instant affirmation is granted in the form of a yellow Favorite star.

When students heard about her statement, tweets lauding her and the possibility of Russellville’s own Dickson Street rolled in. These tweets, more likely than not, were from those who’ve spent a few nights out on Fayetteville’s main strip and are eager to bring that singular revelry to our city. And who could blame them? Dickson Street is everything most college students consider a large, if not the largest, part of the college experience. The food is killer. Shopping outlets abound. Its music venues pull in talent from across the state and country, and students flock.

The bar scene rivals, and in many aspects surpasses, Little Rock’s River Market. From higher-end microbrews made locally to your standard Whatever Light in a can, the UofA populace is brought out in force whether it’s refund check time or Taco Bell for the third night straight.

So of course Tech students (and anyone not of Puritan ilk) want this for our community. But while making Bowen’s “cultural center” a reality is possible, for now the idea is just that: an idea.

North El Paso Avenue stretches about a mile to Main Street and the downtown area. That’s roughly a 20 minute walk. The heart of that walk leads one through a rather unglamorous residential area. Last time we checked, defunct-looking houses were not a part of Dickson Street’s allure. Tech already owns some real estate on North El Paso— including lots and houses on North Denver Avenue and an apartment complex on West L Street—but to turn the area into a cultural hub students would actually spend time and money at, expansive purchasing, demolishing, and rebuilding will be a necessity.

Also necessary: legalizing alcohol sales within the city. Currently, this is unlikely based purely on the conservative makeup of the area’s demographic. Things will change as time passes, but we could be looking at a lengthy wait before the booze begins to flow west of Conway County. Voters bear just as much responsibility as the policy makers when it comes to money spending and money making.

Bowen said she’s been encouraged by the city’s development on North El Paso so far, but this work is small ball. Street and sidewalk work may be a foundation, nascent steps leading to a goal many years and dollars away. But time and money appear to be on our side. From 2003-2013, Tech was ranked top-10 nationally in student growth among master degree-granting universities. The more students, the more money the university must spend on expansion. And what better way to expand than the idea Bowen at least nominally put forth.

The initial financial burden would have to be carried both by Tech and the city of Russellville, but if student growth continues to increase at a similar pace, the kickback would be well worth it for both entities.

North El Paso would draw prospective students to Tech, and these students would in turn generate tax revenue for the city. Bowen also implored students to show grit in their academic perseverance during her speech. This same determination applies to our university’s decision makers. Tech’s administration will have to show grit in its planning and execution to develop “our town’s version of Dickson Street” into anything more than a convenient idea meant to capture student’s attention.