Reelin’ in the years: Evansville officials remember Main Street walkway, 50 years later

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT)- Sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. As malls popped outside downtown areas and in the suburbs nationally, cities across the country toyed with the idea of pedestrian walkways in the heart of the city to bring more shoppers and businesses back downtown.

In 1959, Evansville attempted the idea on an interim basis and while it was successful initially, it wasn’t until 1971 that plans were made to make it a permanent idea. Former Mayor Russ Lloyd Jr., whose father served also served as Mayor during the walkway era, remembers that there was a lot of “hoopla” surrounding it.

However, those best-laid plans went awry. Evansville Executive Director of Metropolitan Development Kelley Coures says the walkway was a failure as it stopped the “hemorrhage” of businesses leaving downtown.

But why did the walkway fail? Coures says parking issues, combined with the recently-built Civic Center blocking Main St. from N. Main St. caused issues for people coming to shop. Whereas people were happy to park farther away at malls, Coures says people couldn’t actually see the shops along Main St and had to park blocks away.

After campaigning on the issue, Lloyd Jr. officially reopened Main St. to one lane of vehicular traffic, formally putting an end to the walkway era. Lloyd Jr. says recent history proves the decision to end the walkway was right, noting it’s taken some time for Main Street to recover but “it’s changed in a good way.”

Coures and Lloyd Jr. say new additions to downtown Evansville, including the Ford Center and the Signature School, are proof of the area’s resurgence.

Coures says the walkway wasn’t an entirely bad idea, especially with the renovation done during the administration of Mayor Michael Vandeveer in the 1980s. While the initial walkway was a failure, Coures says the later version has been a success.

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