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New interest in Old Town: Organization lobbies for preservation cause

Sunday, February 19, 2006

(Photo)
Tourists from the Mississippi Queen and the River Explorer shopped the stores of downtown Cape Girardeau during their visit on July 25, 2005.
(Diane L. Wilson)
Old Town Cape regularly preaches the merits of historic preservation and restoration of old commercial buildings.

These days, it's more than just talk. The downtown redevelopment organization can point to the former Marquette Hotel-turned-state-office-building and the renovation of the historic Southeast Missourian building on Broadway as signs of progress.

"I think there is a renewed interest in historic preservation," said Old Town Cape executive director Tim Arbeiter.

The organization and the city's Historic Preservation Commission have educated business and property owners about the value of preserving the architectural heritage of neighborhoods.

In the past, downtown businesses often covered up their antique brick facades with "fake stucco," Arbeiter said.

"That is unfortunate, but we hope to stem the tide," he said.

Tax credits have helped make it financially feasible for downtown merchants and property owners to restore the historic character of their buildings.

Old Town Cape has championed other improvements. Its efforts led the city council in December to lower the threshold needed for establishing a local historic district from 75 percent of property owners in a neighborhood to 51 percent.

Arbeiter said that could encourage both commercial and residential property owners to set up districts that should help preserve an area's architectural heritage.

Rules to follow

Property owners in a local district would have to comply with architectural rules intended to preserve the exteriors of commercial and residential buildings. They would help craft the design rules for their neighborhood, said city historic preservation commissioner Scott House.

"All this is basically about empowering people within an area to do the things they want to do," he said.

Old Town Cape also wants the city council to change one-way, southbound Main Street to a two-way thoroughfare.

The idea has proved controversial. Opponents say it's a recipe for traffic tie-ups with delivery trucks blocking the road and keeping shoppers stuck in traffic or discouraged from entering the downtown.

But Old Town Cape officials and other supporters of two-way traffic insist it will bring more shoppers to the downtown, slow down traffic and make the area more appealing to pedestrians.

"There are going to be bumps in the road, but we feel the overall benefit outweighs the negatives," Arbeiter said.

He said the fact that one block of downtown Main Street has five vacant buildings demonstrates the need to draw more traffic to the area.

Arbeiter hopes the city council will decide the Main Street issue within the next 90 days before he departs to take a new job with the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce.

Arbeiter has been hired as the chamber's vice president of community development, a newly created position that will still include promoting redevelopment efforts.

Old Town Cape also wants to fashion a land-use plan for development of the Good Hope neighborhood.

"We are in conversation with the city right now on how best to approach it," he said.

A consultant likely would have to be hired to develop a land-use plan, Arbeiter said.

When Arbeiter walks along Good Hope Street, he sees more than run-down houses, well-worn business buildings and vacant lots. He sees future development in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.

Old Town Cape officials envision residential and commercial development. With proper planning, the area could become home to artists and art galleries, Arbeiter said.

Two ongoing construction projects, he said, could spark more development in the Good Hope neighborhood: the federal courthouse on Independence Street and the River Campus arts school at Fountain and Morgan Oak streets.

Old Town Cape wants the city to extend Fountain Street two blocks from Morgan Oak Street to William Street. But the organization doesn't want a traditional concrete road.

The organization wants the two-block extension to be a decorative boulevard with brick-like pavers and old-fashioned street lights.

That could cost an estimated $1.3 million. The city so far has budgeted $300,000 toward the project. Coupled with a $500,000 grant the city has received, the city currently can afford to build a 40-foot-wide concrete street.

But Old Town Cape believes it can secure state and federal grant money to build the more elaborate street.

That's needed to provide a grand entrance to downtown Cape Girardeau from the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge that connects Illinois and Missouri, Old Town Cape officials said.

Old Town Cape promotes redevelopment in an area that encompasses neighborhoods from the Mississippi River west to West End Boulevard and from North Street south to Highway 74.

The area is home to 9,000 people and about 240 businesses, Arbeiter said.

Old Town Cape operates on an annual budget of $160,000. The city of Cape Girardeau provides $20,000. The rest comes from fund-raising, private donations and pledges from businesses.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123Old Town Cape regularly preaches the merits of historic preservation and restoration of old commercial buildings.

These days, it's more than just talk. The downtown redevelopment organization can point to the former Marquette Hotel-turned-state-office-building and the renovation of the historic Southeast Missourian building on Broadway as signs of progress.

"I think there is a renewed interest in historic preservation," said Old Town Cape executive director Tim Arbeiter.

The organization and the city's Historic Preservation Commission have worked to educate business and property owners about the value of preserving the architectural heritage of neighborhoods.

In the past, downtown businesses often covered up their antique brick facades with "fake stucco," Arbeiter said.

"That is unfortunate, but we hope to stem the tide," he said.

Tax credits have helped make it financial feasible for downtown merchants and property owners to restore the historic character of their buildings.

Old Town Cape has championed other improvements. Its efforts led the city council in December to lower the threshold needed for establishing a local historic district from 75 percent of property owners in a neighborhood to 51 percent.

Arbeiter said that could encourage both commercial and residential property owners to set up districts that should help preserve an area's architectural heritage.

Property owners in a local district would have to comply with architectural rules intended to preserve the exteriors of commercial and residential buildings. They would help craft the design rules for their neighborhood, said city historic preservation commissioner Scott House.

"All this is basically about empowering people within an area to do the things they want to do," he said.

Old Town Cape also wants the city council to change one-way, southbound Main Street to a two-way thoroughfare.

The idea has proved controversial. Opponents say it's a recipe for traffic tie-ups with delivery trucks blocking the road and keeping shoppers stuck in traffic or discouraged from entering the downtown.

But Old Town Cape officials and other supporters of two-way traffic insist it will bring more shoppers to the downtown, slow down traffic and make the area more appealing to pedestrians.

"There are going to be bumps in the road, but we feel the overall benefit outweighs the negatives," Arbeiter said.

He said the fact that one block of downtown Main Street has five vacant buildings demonstrates the need to draw more traffic to the area.

Arbeiter hopes the city council will decide the Main Street issue within the next 90 days before he departs to take a new job with the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce.

Arbeiter has been hired as the chamber's vice president of community development, a newly created position that will still include promoting redevelopment efforts.

Old Town Cape also wants to fashion a land-use plan for development of the Good Hope neighborhood.

"We are in conversation with the city right now on how best to approach it," he said.

A consultant likely would have to be hired to develop a land-use plan, Arbeiter said.

When Arbeiter walks along Good Hope Street, he sees more than run-down houses, well-worn business buildings and vacant lots. He sees future development in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.

Old Town Cape officials envision residential and commercial development. With proper planning, the area could become home to artists and art galleries, Arbeiter said.

Two ongoing construction projects, he said, could spark more development in the Good Hope neighborhood: the federal courthouse on Independence Street and the River Campus arts school at Fountain and Morgan Oak streets.

Old Town Cape wants the city to extend Fountain Street two blocks from Morgan Oak Street to William Street. But the organization doesn't want a traditional concrete road.

The organization wants the two-block extension to be a decorative boulevard with brick-like pavers and old-fashioned street lights.

That could cost an estimated $1.3 million. The city so far has budgeted $300,000 toward the project. Coupled with a $500,000 grant the city has received, the city currently can afford to build a 40-foot-wide concrete street.

But Old Town Cape believes it can secure state and federal grant money to build the more elaborate street.

That's needed to provide a grand entrance to downtown Cape Girardeau from the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge that connects Illinois and Missouri, Old Town Cape officials said.

Old Town Cape promotes redevelopment in an area that encompasses neighborhoods from the Mississippi River west to West End Boulevard and from North Street south to Highway 74.

The area is home to 9,000 people and about 240 businesses, Arbeiter said.

Old Town Cape operates on an annual budget of $160,000. The city of Cape Girardeau provides $20,000. The rest comes from fund-raising, private donations and pledges from businesses.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123


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