Cape pursues changes for Water Street

Friday, January 14, 2005

Cape Girardeau's downtown would have two one-way, southbound streets within a block of each other in street improvement plans expected to come before the city council next month.

Downtown merchants favor switching to one-way traffic on Water Street but can't agree on whether to return Main Street to two-way traffic. As a result, the city council next month will consider approving plans for Water Street alone, city officials said Thursday. Those plans include making the street one way southbound with angled parking, widening the sidewalk, and installing decorative lighting and a reading rail that will provide information about the newly created floodwall murals that depict the city's history.

The project also would include some improvements to the Main Street parking lot south of Independence Street. But Main Street, from Broadway to William Street, would remain one way southbound for now even though some downtown business leaders favor changing it to two-way traffic.

Keeping Main Street one way would force downtown motorists who want to go north to use Spanish Street. Spanish Street would remain a two-way street.

City manager Doug Leslie said engineering plans for the downtown improvements will be presented to the planning and zoning commission and the city council next month.

"We're shooting for trying to get it under construction by spring," he said.

The Water Street improvements could be completed by late spring or early summer, said Tim Blattner of the River Heritage Mural Association. The organization pushed for the improvements to make it easier for tourists and area residents to view the lengthy floodwall mural.

Mayor Jay Knudtson said the project, including engineering and construction, will be funded by the River Heritage Mural Association and the Cape Girardeau Redevelopment Corp., which was set up in the 1980s by downtown merchants to finance redevelopment projects.

But Leslie said the funding is still being finalized.

City planner Kent Bratton said city staff have no construction cost estimates yet on the project, which is being engineered by a private firm.

About 50 downtown merchants discussed the issue at a meeting at the Osage Community Centre Wednesday night. The merchants reached agreement on the Water Street improvements, but many weren't sold on the Main Street proposal.

Some downtown merchants said they opposed changing Main Street to two-way traffic because it could create tie-ups when delivery trucks are parked on the street.

"I think it is a bad idea at this time," said downtown jeweler Roger Lang. "I didn't see a need for a change."

Knudtson attended the meeting and suggested scrapping the Main Street change, at least for now.

He said there's no consensus on the part of downtown merchants or the public to change Main Street.

"In my mind, it made sense to slow things down a little bit," he said Thursday.

The mayor said Main Street could become two-way again in the future if traffic needs warrant it.

The mural association's Blattner said he's not opposed to keeping Main Street one way. "If it proves we need it, fine. If not, we leave it alone," he said.

Downtown businessman John Wyman and Old Town Cape, a downtown revitalization organization, had backed the idea of returning Main Street to two ways. Main, the city's first shopping area, was a two-way street for 150 years until the change was made in 1956, the year of city's sesquicentennial celebration.

Wyman said two-way streets slow down traffic, encouraging more pedestrian traffic and visitor shopping. "Our whole focus is to increase commerce in this area," he said.

Wyman said it also makes sense to make Main Street two ways to accommodate motorists approaching the downtown from Broadway on the north and William Street on the south.

Wyman and Old Town Cape officials hope the city will consider changing Main Street sooner rather than later.

"We think that over time that will become more apparent to more people," said Dr. Steven Hoffman, associate professor of history at Southeast Missouri State University and president of the board of directors of Old Town Cape.

Hoffman said traffic from development of the River Campus arts school and the Fountain Street extension ultimately will result in more traffic wanting to come to downtown from that direction.

"We are going to want a more accessible Main Street," he said.

335-6611, extension 123

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