Downtown group explores how Main Street Missouri can help city
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Like many other cities throughout Missouri, Jefferson City’s downtown has needed a little TLC over the years.
The local Downtown Association recently sent Stephanie Bell, its vice president, to the Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) basic training conference to see what more can be done to revitalize and improve the historic downtown.
The MMSC’s four-point approach to revitalization includes organization, economic restructuring, design and promotion.
“Right now, we aren’t following everything, but have talked about it in the past,” Bell noted. “Although we’ve had our downtown association for a lot of years, we’ll be looking to adopt more of these Main Street ideas.”
Bell said the downtown association has done well with organizing a group of representatives to work together under the same vision on downtown revitalization. She noted the local association also works to create special events such as Thursday Night Live, and has maps promoting what Jefferson City’s downtown has to offer.
“We haven’t really focused on design or economic restructuring. We’ll look at how we can follow these guidelines and get more involved,” Bell explained.
MMSC helps communities to explore the potential their downtown area may be hiding, to care for existing buildings and cultural assets, as well as prepare for growth using a long-term planning strategy for success. MMSC suggests focusing on safe and efficient infrastructure, paying special attention and detail on the appearance of storefronts, signs, street lights, window displays and graphic materials.
Using the model set up by MMSC, Bell hopes the local association can focus on becoming a great resource for anyone interested in undertaking the restoration process. She hopes the association can bring more business owners together with contractors and others in hopes of furthering improvements downtown.
“I think getting those people (building owners, contractors, etc.) working together can help us maintain the look while offering more spaces to live and shop. She noted many businesses have worked to improve their buildings, but there are still a lot of missed opportunities.
“I get calls on a weekly basis asking about lofts in the downtown area,” she said.
While there are some apartments available downtown, many businesses haven’t taken advantage of the growing downtown housing demand.
Bell said the two-day conference allowed her to be in the company of other volunteers and people interested in bettering their downtowns. She encourages all members of the community, including business owners from other parts of Jefferson City, to be supportive in revitalization efforts. Bell called the downtown area the “front porch to the city,” noting that most visitors to Jefferson City visit near the Capitol and Governor’s Mansion.
“You aren’t going to want to further explore the city if downtown doesn’t look good. It is the image of the city. The investment should be from everyone,” the passionate Jefferson City native said.
Bell also said there needs to be a shift in thinking to get everyone on the same page.
An MMSC revitalization conference is slated for July in Kansas City. Bell hopes to attend the conference along with others from Jefferson City who desire to get involved. “We can really learn from other communities that are doing revitalization.”
As the local organization works to align its agenda with MMSC’s, Bell noted there may be opportunities for matching grants in the future.
Missouri Main Street, which began in 1989 under the umbrella of Missouri Department of Economic Development, sees its mission “to enhance the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of historic downtown districts” throughout the state. It does this “within the context of historic preservation” while educating cities through the four-point approach to revitalization which was developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Program. The four-point approach is used by 3,000 towns in 42 states.
Other Missouri cities involved in the MMSC tiered program include Lee’s Summit, Ash Grove, Liberty, Cape Girardeau, Warrensburg, Chillicothe, Clinton, Washington, Glasgow, Excelsior Springs, Sedalia and Sikeston.
According to the MMSC website, 10 communities using the tiered program were surveyed on their city’s progress. As of 2011, there were 117 jobs created, 13 new businesses started, saved or rehabilitated historic buildings totaled 109, and $16.7 million in private investment funding was used for exterior and interior rehabilitation and new construction.