Candidates endorse Old Town initiatives

Jefferson City residents have seen plenty of change in the past year.

Between the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce’s economic development strategic plan and the efforts to revitalize the area of town known as Old Town, there has been no shortage of change.

This fact is not lost on the candidates running for the four contested seats on the

Jefferson City Council.

In the opinion of 1st Ward Councilman Bob Weber, there is no reason for a candidate not to be aware and thoroughly familiar with all of these efforts in Jefferson City, especially when it comes to the chamber’s plan.

“The City of Jefferson is a key stakeholder in almost all of the recommendations,” Weber said. “I commend the efforts of the chamber and all of the volunteers who have shared their vision for the future of Jefferson City. The council needs to do whatever we can to assist in moving these initiatives forward.”

Fourth Ward candidate Bill Luebbert said he thinks the initiatives are the right direction for the city.

“Although it is easy to criticize the committee approach, it does generate ideas and potential solutions from a great number of people which form the basis for actions,” Luebbert said. “I believe the chamber’s activities will generate a wealth of information for the city to pick up where appropriate. The city should be closely involved with the chamber as the chamber is our official industrial development agency, and its members are our citizens.”

One of the main reasons the chamber is making this push for economic development is because recent figures show the young professional population is declining while Jefferson City’s older population is on the rise.

Scott Stacey, candidate in the 5th Ward, said he thinks the chamber’s efforts attack that problem and more head on.

“We need to increase our economic viability to create jobs, and exciting things to do in our own community,” Stacey said. “I think the City Council and the city government should be involved in making things happen for our neighbors and new neighbors alike, and therefore, should be consistently involved with the Chamber of Commerce and Cole County. I promise to review the economic plan in its entirety, to critique the plan, help find ways to implement a beneficial plan for our community and, most importantly, talk with my neighbors about the plan and find out what they think about it and what they want to see happen to our community.”

One of the biggest focuses of the Chamber of Commerce’s plan is Old Town. Along with a Phase 2 action team that focuses on the area, there are also teams that focus on specific areas in Old Town, including the Missouri State Penitentiary site, the Millbottom area and the downtown area.

Along with being a candidate in the 3rd Ward, Ken Hussey is also one of the co-chairmen of the action team focusing on the redevelopment of St. Mary’s Health Center. As such, he is familiar with the process and said he is especially excited for some of the developments that have already come out of the cooperation between the council and the chamber.

“For example, the creation of a festival district requires an ordinance change by the City Council,” Hussey said. “I am excited this idea is moving forward. There could be further action needed by the City Council on other proposals. The council needs to be very involved in the plan so that it can make informed decisions when action is needed by the city on an idea.”

But the revitalization of Old Town is not limited to the creation of things like a festival district. One of the most resounding recommendations that came from the ad hoc committee that focused on this very topic was that developers need help to make it easier to work with some of the older homes and buildings in Old Town.

This is a fact that Tyler Woods is very familiar with, since his home in the 1st Ward falls into that older category.

“It is important to me as a member of the Historic City of Jefferson, and living in a older home, that we rebuild and renovate both properties and the older, what I call, ‘original Jefferson City,’” Woods said. “Our city was founded on the grid of Old Town and to restore it to the prominent area it once was I am 100 percent behind.”

One of the surprising aspects of the Old Town revitalization process has been the speed at which the suggestions have been implemented. With Monday’s council meeting, five of the potential 10 suggestions the committee presented could be made into ordinances.

Although 5th Ward candidate Ralph Bray is not advocating undue haste when considering possibilities for Old Town, he said the council needs to remain just as open if and when suggestions start to come from the chamber and its action teams.

“I am very supportive of the chamber’s efforts to involve the public in the discussion of issues and answers to help define the future prosperity of our community,” Bray said. “If the council and city can help good ideas move forward and become reality, then they should.”

One area of concern that 4th Ward candidate Carlos Graham said he would like to see the council tackle in a bigger way is the problem of abandoned buildings in Old Town.

“I think the project is moving forward appropriately and would strive to keep pressure on the owners of abandoned buildings to better maintain them and support the continued enforcement of code,” Graham said. “I also believe the development strategies introduced by the Chamber of Commerce are vital to the revitalization of the area.”

That was a sentiment that was echoed by 3rd Ward Councilman Dr. Bryan Pope, who has had to deal with these issues for the past two years, especially when it comes to areas like Capitol Avenue.

“I think it is just blighted,” Pope said. “Much of that has to do with it just being one property owner, and it’s just a real serious problem that we’ve got to figure out and get our heads together.”

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