Last week, I took my two year old for a walk before dinner. Since she was feeling especially energetic, we walked further than we normally do and ended up at the former Osco on the corner of Main and Kossuth. I’ve walked, biked, or driven by on numerous occasions, but I never stopped to walk around. After years of sitting empty, the exterior is in reasonable shape. Empty(?) coffee cups sit inside the front window, presumably left there by the last workers to clear out the store. That they remain undisturbed behind intact glass is a testament to the relative good behavior of Lafayette residents and visitors. However, the fact that the building remains empty shows how much the middle of the city has been forgotten.
Downtown is vibrant and still improving. The edges of the city are growing. But what’s left for the middle except empty retail space? In addition to the Osco, there’s empty space galore in Lafayette Station. The area north of Tippecanoe Mall has seen plenty of flight, especially to the Pavillions. The West Lafayette K-Mart sat empty for years.
I’ve often thought about what I would do with the Osco building if I had the money. My favorite idea is an adults-only inflatables center. Who wouldn’t love a bouncy house with a built-in bar? More mundanely, I could make it a data center. Or a convenience store. Or…
And maybe that’s the problem. It seems nobody has both the money and a profitable idea. I can’t think of what the neighborhood needs. A grocery store would seem to fit the bill, but there’s already a Marsh down the road. For those who live north of Main Street, it would be a much more convenient walk. But does that even matter?
I’ll admit, I’m just as much of the problem as anyone. My wife and I do most of our grocery shopping at Meijer, even though two Marshes and a Pay Less are on the way. Even though the surrounding neighborhoods are quite walkable, how often do the residents choose to walk? If they do choose to walk, do they have anywhere to walk to?
Figuring out which comes first – the desire or the destination – is the key to reviving the forgotten middle of the city. And when you figure it out, there are 15,486 square feet waiting for your idea.