With its historic carousel, best-of-the-Vineyard pizza and fried clams and Victorian seaside charm that is rooted in an earlier century, Oak Bluffs is proud to be different.
This is the town of diversity, where African Americans populate the summer community, and the town of affordability, where many year-round middle class Islanders make their homes. It is the port town of passenger ferries and day trippers, the town of broad, green public parks kissed by ocean breezes with runabout children and kite-flying adults who would be children again. It is the town where arguably the most beautiful public road on the Island runs along a coastal barrier beach stretching from Harthaven to Edgartown.
When it comes to politics it is a rough-and-tumble town that nonetheless had the savvy to take a hard look at its finances after a few really ugly years and begin to clean up its balance sheet. Now it’s focused on sprucing up in other ways.
This week, at the invitation of the Oak Bluffs town administrator, a group of state planning officials joined Oak Bluffs community and business leaders in a walkabout to tour the downtown and talk about ways to revitalize it. There was discussion about the potential for government grants to relieve blight and practical advice on gaining consensus on what needs improvement and how to achieve it.
No doubt there is work to be done. In one way, Oak Bluffs is simply experiencing a cycle that other Island towns have seen. Buildings fall into disrepair and must be refurbished; businesses change hands; generations change too. Just a few short years ago the neighboring town of Vineyard Haven went through a similar cycle as Main street saw a downturn. That has begun to change, with new businesses taking the place of old ones that had closed. And this week Tisbury learned that an add-on to the state rooms and meal tax adopted last year by voters brought in extra revenue for the town this summer. That was a small step that saw positive results.
While Oak Bluffs has a challenge in front of it, it has resisted the development sprawl that has caused other towns’ central business districts to founder. The soon-to-be completed fishing pier will serve as yet another draw to the downtown area. Parking must be high on the list of issues to address to make this truly a pedestrian-friendly destination.
As state officials noted during their tour this week, there is a lot of focus and interest right now in building on the strengths of this wonderful, vibrant town. Now is the moment to stop dwelling on what is not perfect and start getting specific about what needs to be done.