Cape Girardeau competes for title of 'All-America City'

Saturday, February 11, 2006

We have All-America contests for football, for academics, and for beauty, but there is also a contest for cities.

For the last 53 years, the National Civic League has selected 10 cities annually out of an average 100 applications for the award. Cape Girardeau was last selected in 1967, but organizers hope this year will mark the city's second trip to the winner's circle.

"Sometimes it's a thing a community gets used to, and we hope we can get the designation [of All-America City] as a reminder of how good of a community we really have here," said organizer and assistant to the city manager Heather Brooks. "Unless you go to other communities and see the difference it's hard to realize how good Cape really is."

The city's application, which must be submitted by March 9 will highlight challenges and achievements for the city.

The two challenges Brooks and co-organizer Teresa Wildman identified were downtown revitalization and the ability to establish partnerships between human service providers, businesses and government.

A second part of the application asks entrants to list how their city has combated these challenges.

Preservation, renovation

Brooks and Wildman identified Old Town Cape, founded in 1999, as an institution committed to the improvement of Cape Girardeau's historic district. They cite OTC's many efforts to preserve and renovate structures and attract new businesses and residents. The group also holds events and arts festivals to draw visitors downtown. The effort, said Brooks, has helped create 177 new jobs, 27 new businesses, and 11 renovated buildings over the last three years.

OTC, said Brooks, shows Cape Girardeau's determination not to let allow the 130 city-block downtown follow the decaying route of other big cities.

The institution combating the second challenge, according to Brooks and Wideman, is the Community Caring Council. The CCC, according to the application, was formed in 1989 to find innovative solutions to problems as diverse as crime, health-care access and housing. The council, said Brooks, identifies service gaps and community needs in Cape Girardeau and works with businesses, non-profits and religious organizations to address those needs.

Brooks said the CCC represents local enthusiasm for innovative solutions.

"Cape is a very unique area for civic involvement," she said. "Residents really care about their community and won't sit back and let things just happen. They step up to the plate. ...You just need to look at the number of civic clubs, the number of churches, the number of businesses in the chamber of commerce, the number of community groups, this is a very involved community."

The last project the organizers identified was meant to show the community's concern for the welfare of children. Southeast Missouri State Network Against Sexual Violence is a pioneering organization dealing with difficult issues, said Brooks. The network sponsors educational programs in schools, training for medical and law-enforcement first responders, and new methods of inquisition and forensics designed to be less traumatic for young victims. SEMO-NASV served 417 children in 2005.

All of these groups make Cape Girardeau a special community, said Brooks, but none of them guarantee recognition as an All-America City. Brooks and Wideman went to 2005's competition in Atlanta to get ideas. Brooks said she was impressed by the production value of the entrants there.

"Some came in and sang their entire presentation, some others had almost the set of a play as their backdrop," she said. "But all of them were well choreographed."

Brooks said if Cape Girardeau is chosen as one of 30 to attend this year's competition in Anaheim in June, they will not go overboard on production value.

"We'll keep costs minimal," she said. "I could see us blowing up some nice pictures of the city or borrowing some of the banners used by CVB, but not much more than that."

If selected, Cape Girardeau would take a delegation of about 20 to the competition.

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