Midtown makeover: Cape's draft comprehensive plan reflects bright future for old commercial district

Monday, November 12, 2007
Vehicle lights streaked on North Kingshighway between Independence and Broadway in a time exposure Sunday in Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

Cape Girardeau has "a big hole" in its midsection.

"The moment you hit that intersection of William [Street] and Kingshighway, it's clear something is not right," said Carol Gossett, a planner with Arcturus, the St. Louis-based consulting firm that drafted the comprehensive plan,

Reinventing what many refer to simply as "the Town Plaza" area could bolster east-west traffic and prevent future blight.

Martha Brown, planner for the city of Cape Girardeau, defines the potential midtown area as Kingshighway between William Street and Broadway.

"It's a pretty big area," she said, estimating coverage of 150 acres. Much of the development along Kingshighway, she said, "is probably obsolete. It's an old highway corridor-type development."

The single-story shopping centers fronted by seemingly vast and somewhat empty parking lots are unappealing, Gossett said.

"That area is not producing a lot of reason to go there," she said.

Mayor Jay Knudtson agrees.

Without prompt attention and action, "it's in real danger of complete deterioration," he said. "The Plaza Galleria has already got holes in the roof."

In addition to creating more logical traffic patterns and refining the number of driveways to shops, the plan recommends using green space and setbacks to camouflage parking lots.

Over a handful of pages, the draft plan revamps the entire length of Kingshighway, with special emphasis on a zone between William and Broadway. That segment could be the spot for a community college that acts as a feeder school for Southeast Missouri State University as well as Saint Francis Medical Center and Southeast Missouri

Hospital, Gossett said. Another alternative is to create a medical facility offering research space alongside doctors' offices.

With the addition of apartments and a pedestrian-friendly extension of the LaCroix Trail's crossing over Kingshighway, the city's midtown could become a lively 24-hour zone, Brown said. The technical term for a neighborhood that blends shopping, restaurants, office space and apartments, condominiums and single-family homes is "mixed use."

Dr. Michael Jessup sees lots of potential for the Independence Street/Kingshighway area. He owns the 108,000-square-foot strip mall behind Town Plaza as well as Cozmo's Cafe. Jessup has been meeting with city officials to work out details about his plans for the property.

"What I'm wanting to do is move my medical practice there and set up a mini medical mall," he said. Among the amenities he envisions is a large waiting area with interior green space, as well as a sophisticated communications system so patients have the option of shopping or taking care of other business before or after a doctor's appointment.

He's also like to see more green space outside the building and envisions a play area with equipment for children's use.

Brown said service drives can be used to connect retail areas, but walkability is vital to helping shopping centers draw people.

Landscaping that includes benches and fountains is "more inviting ... it makes it more attractive for walkability," she said. Rather than building expensive tunnels or bridges over Kingshighway, she said, signs, clearly marked landscaping and coordinated signals could provide cost-effective, safer paths for walkers and bikers. Greenery could also be used to soften the visual impact of the cement liner for Cape LaCroix creek, preserving its flood control function.

The city will have to find ways, Brown said, of encouraging the changes. That could include offering tax breaks or zoning incentives to existing shops.

Irvin Jessup, who manages his son's shopping center, is a former Seattle resident. He's lived in Cape Girardeau since 1998 and said the big changes suggested by the plan will require some tough decisions.

"If you really want to grow, you have to make a choice," he said.

The first step to that decision-making, Brown said, "is to have a plan and adopt it."

The planning and zoning commission meets for its final study session at 7 p.m. Tuesday at city hall, 401 Independence St.


335-6611, extension 127

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