Destination Cape: Why we need more tourism magnets

Friday, July 12, 2013

We have the Missouri Department of Transportation to thank for the best thing to happen in recent years to raise the visibility of Cape Girardeau.

I'm talking about the huge Interstate 55 signs south of I-270 that show motorists which lanes lead to the River City of Roses. (I know that's not the city's moniker anymore, but I still like it way better than its current substitute.)

Anyone heading south on I-55 gets three ginormous reminders that the biggest city between St. Louis and Memphis is our own Cape Girardeau. Just stay in the left lanes.

"Destination city" is a label coveted by towns that offer a good reason to stop. Branson became a destination city when it had only a two-lane highway, no airport to speak of and no casino. It still has no casino, and its family- oriented activities wouldn't be helped if it did.

Cape Girardeau has a glitzy casino now. And what else?

There are the local history connections: Red House Interpretive Center, Glenn House, River Heritage Museum, Fort D, the museum at the River Campus, the floodwall murals, downtown's Old Town Cape.

And there are special events: The SEMO District Fair (oldest in the state) and big draws like the air festival at the airport, the Great Race automobiles, the big bicycle race, performers at the Show Me Center and, of course, WrestleMania.

You can count the main reasons anyone comes to Cape Girardeau on one hand:

1. To work.

2. To get a college education.

3. To get medical treatment.

4. To shop, eat out and go to movies.

That leaves your thumb.

Mr. Mayor, in his column on this same page earlier this week, offered some other possibilities for embracing and expanding some of our community activities.

The one that appealed to me was to make Cape Girardeau the "Fourth of July City" in Missouri. In other words, make our Independence Day celebration so wonderful and so well-known that folks would come from all over.

In this same vein, I thought the AT&T plan to put a large Missouri flag on a proposed 140-foot cell tower on William Street was a wonderful idea.

Look. Cape Girardeau is the birthplace of the Missouri flag. Until appropriate ceremonies were held earlier this year at the Oliver house, there wasn't even a plaque that told visitors about our flag history.

When motorists take the Center Junction exit off I-55 to enter Cape Girardeau, they are treated to the lush county parks on either side of the road. One of the main features is a large U.S. flag. You can see U.S. flags, large and small, almost anywhere. Used-car lots have them to get the attention of potential buyers.

As you enter Cape Girardeau you also see the sweeping superstructure of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge across the Mississippi River.

What if you could also see a supersized Missouri flag floating over the downtown area? This would be a significant reminder that Cape Girardeau is Missouri's Flag City.

And, goodness knows, the proposed cell tower would clean up a stretch of William Street that has long been an eyesore.

When the casino was being built and streets were being realigned to accommodate gamblers, my money -- and yours -- was spent to build a decorative barrier blocking the view of mostly blighted houses, including the Reynolds house, one of the oldest structures in the city that is a good strong windstorm away from collapsing.

So when local history buffs raised concerns about the new cell tower, I wondered if we could build some more walls -- pretty walls, to be sure -- to keep us from seeing the tower up close.

But that far-off view from the county-parks hilltop? That would be spectacular.

Now, in the spirit of compromise and good corporate relations, the Missouri flag idea appears to be on its way out. Don't draw attention to a 140-foot pole, the history folks say.

I say draw all the attention you can to it. And the biggest Missouri state flag ever would be a good way to do it.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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