A study that looks at where Cape wants to be two decades from now

Cape Girardeau's nine-chapter, 160-plus page Vision 2040 plan will be the subject of a public hearing Wednesday night at City Hall.
Jay Wolz

Anytime you take a journey, especially when you're going someplace you've never been, it's a good idea to take a map.

The same holds true when you're looking into the future -- 5, 10, or even 20 years from now -- to prepare for what's ahead.

That's the rationale behind Cape Girardeau's Vision 2040 project, a recently completed study that looks at where Cape Girardeau is -- and where it wants to be two decades from now.

"Cape Vision 2040 furthers the momentum of past planning efforts to make Cape Girardeau more livable, resilient and vibrant," according to a passage in the Vision 2040 planning document.

Commissioned three years ago by the Cape Girardeau City Council, the Cape Vision 2040 report is a successor to the city's Vision 2000 group, Cape Girardeau's 2020 project and the city's 2008 comprehensive plan.

"Most comprehensive plans have about a 20-year horizon, but they need to be updated at some point, so a comprehensive plan should be updated about every 10 years," explained Ryan Shrimplin, Cape Girardeau's city planner.

Hundreds of businesses, organizations and individuals provided input for the plan through focus groups, surveys and interviews, all offering their visions for Cape Girardeau's future.

The nine-chapter, 160-page planning document looks at several aspects of community development and quality-of-life issues including economic prosperity, social and cultural vibrancy, housing, infrastructure, transportation and land use. The report was developed in coordination with the municipal consulting firm of Teska Associates of Plainfield, Illinois.

"Cape Girardeau is prosperous, but we want to be sure you continue to be," said Mike Hoffman, Teska vice president, as he presented the Vision 2040 report to the Cape Girardeau Planning & Zoning Commission last month.

At that meeting, P&Z Commission member Jeff Glenn noted that the Cape Vision 2040 report "is a vision, not a strategic plan" and that it will "birth a number of strategic plans over the next 20 years."

Economic Prosperity

As a hub of economic activity in a multi-state region, Cape Girardeau, the report says, is "well-positioned" for economic and workforce development.

The city's diversified economy, skilled workforce, educational opportunities, location and access to transportation make it an attractive place to do business, and with an employment base that spans several economic sectors, Cape Girardeau has been able to weather several "economic storms."

Cape Girardeau "is performing above average in occupational and industry diversity," according to the report.

However, the Cape Vision 2040 plan recommended an ongoing focus on employee retention, new business recruitment and "closing the workforce skills gap" to help supply employers with a well-trained and diversified workforce.

"Residents expressed a desire for more training opportunities, especially in the area of technology," the report says. "Specific ideas included expanding the Cape Girardeau Career and technology Center and providing training on automation technology."

As for attracting and retaining a diversified workforce, the Cape Vision 2040 report says "retaining Southeast Missouri State University graduates, in addition to seeking external talent, will be critical for Cape Girardeau's future."

The report also says local employers need to identify university graduates who prefer a "small city" lifestyle rather than job markets like St. Louis.

"Just as important," according to the planning document, "is the ability to match a graduate with an employer in their field of specialization. Local job placement is critical to keeping graduates in the community and requires a network of public and private partnerships."

Those partnerships, the report says, "already exist in Cape, including the university's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Marquette Tech District and Catapult Creative House. Additional opportunities for partnerships such as these should be explored."

The Cape Vision 2040 document lists several "high priority" action items to maintain and grow the local economy over the next 20 years, including:

* Continue to understand, support and promote a comprehensive economic development plan focused on a diverse economy including business retention and expansion, business recruitment, entrepreneurial ecosystem enhancement and tourism promotion.

* Partner in developing a comprehensive talent attraction and recruitment effort between now and 2025 and make adjustments as market conditions change.

* Review the city's codes and development services delivery system on an ongoing basis with a goal of achieving a world class, responsible team approach to development with a special focus on rehabilitation and/or reuse of existing building inventory.

* Collaborate and seek beneficial improvements to West Park Mall over the next five years.

* Research and take necessary actions to expand technical training programs either through the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center or a new community college in the next 10 to 20 years.

* Identify potential enhancements to the city's existing revenue streams and do so within the next five years.

Social & Cultural Vibrancy

Cape Girardeau, according to the Cape Vision 2040 report, "is a vibrant and beautiful community" with high quality educational institutions, an active arts and entertainment community, a historic downtown, a robust health care system and outstanding parks and recreation facilities.

Each of those areas is "inextricably linked to individual, community and economic well-being."

Throughout the community engagement process when Teska Associates gathered public input for the Cape Vision 2040 plan, residents said they would like to see additional social and cultural opportunities in the areas of education, arts and entertainment, historic preservation and city beautification, community health and parks and recreation.

To address those areas, the Cape Vision 2040 report recommended the following half-dozen "high priority" action items:

* Enhance and expand educational opportunities and provide a safe, supportive, and innovative learning environment to optimize student performance.

* Develop a citywide after-school educational and cultural enrichment program in the next five years.

* Implement the initiatives of the city's downtown strategic plan update over the next 10 to 20 years.

* Identify potential incentives to encourage rehabilitation and/or reuse of historic buildings between now and 2025.

* Continue to promote community health through programs that encourage active lifestyles, self-support and access to nutritious foods and health care services.

* Complete, over the next 10 to 20 years, the Parks, Recreation and Stormwater 2 (PRS2) projects to enhance and expand the city's parks, trails and recreation facilities and programs and plan for PRS3 to include updates to the Parks, Recreation and Trails Master Plan.

In addition to those goals, the report lists a handful of "medium priority" objectives related to Cape Girardeau's social and cultural environment. Those objectives include recommendations to "optimize the number of festivals, sporting events and other events" while identifying areas for new activities; expand choices for dining and grocery shopping, with an emphasis on outdoor dining and "unique dining/grocery experiences"; update the city's historic preservation plan; and establish identity/gateway features at key entry points to the city.

Housing Mix

"Cape Girardeau," according to the planning document, "is faced with the challenge of offering quality housing options for residents of all income levels."

During their community engagement process, Teska Associates repeatedly heard from residents and businesses saying there is an ongoing need for affordable, quality housing. "When it came to improving housing and neighborhoods, residents had plenty to say," according to the report authors. "Hundreds of ideas were received on topics ranging from revitalizing Cape's older neighborhoods, especially South Cape and Red Star."

The report notes that homes in Cape Girardeau are more affordable, on average, than elsewhere in Missouri or the nation, even when considering income discrepancies.

The report alludes to U.S. Census Bureau data comparing the median home price in Cape Girardeau between 2014 and 2018 at $144,500 compared to the statewide median price of $151,600 and the national median of $204,900.

"In spite of a low cost of living and stable housing prices, the pace of new residential development in Cape Girardeau has been relatively slow." The report says the city has added 636 new homes over the past six years, an average of 106 per year.

Almost half (48%) of Cape Girardeau's households are renters, significantly higher than the statewide average of 33%. That's mainly due to the university, which generates a large demand for off-campus student housing. Monthly rental rates "for an average apartment in Cape Girardeau" is roughly in the $650 to $830 range.

As for the city's housing mix, the Vision 2040 report says houses in Cape Girardeau reflect "two distinct eras" of housing development.

"Most of the housing built during the first era (through World War II) is located in neighborhoods in or near downtown," according to the report. "After the war, development shifted to a 'suburban pattern' of winding streets and cul-de-sacs."

Almost half (48.1%) of the homes in Cape Girardeau are at least 50 years old which, the report says, is not necessarily bad. "Older homes and apartments are valuable in many respects," it says. "They provide much of the city's needed affordable housing opportunities, are near services, and have charm and character not found in newer housing."

However, "the cost and labor needed to maintain this older housing stock can be challenging, in addition to potential health concerns such as lead paint and asbestos."

The Cape Vision 2040 document contains sections focusing specifically on the city's southside neighborhoods and the Red Star District as well as a half-dozen ongoing recommendations related to Cape Girardeau's housing mix. They include:

* Revision of city codes to provide for "new and innovative" forms of housing.

* Support for affordable housing options for low- and moderate-income households.

* Identification of additional resources to assist low-income and elderly homeowners with home repairs.

* Support for neighborhood improvement programs such as P.O.R.C.H. (People Organized to Revitalize Community Healing) and the Neighborhood Development Initiative and support for new investment in the city's older neighborhoods.

* Strengthen enforcement of code violations.

* Invest in infrastructure improvements serving existing residential neighborhoods within the city limits.

Sustainable Infrastructure

Calling it a "critical component" of any community's sustainability, the Cape Vision 2040 report says infrastructure is "often taken for granted until it begins to deteriorate or fail."

Cape Girardeau, according to the report, faces "significant challenges" in managing various infrastructure systems such as utilities, technology and municipal facilities.

The Cape Vision 2040 report offers an overview of Cape Girardeau's water and wastewater systems as well as the city's electric and natural gas grids.

"The city has been successful in getting bond issues approved by voters, which has allowed for (water) system upgrades and expansion over the years," the report notes. The city has more than 200 miles of public water lines and maintains a number of storage tanks and booster pump stations. Additional water system improvements totaling more than $18 million are planned -- and funded -- for the next 14 years.

Cape Girardeau's wastewater treatment center in the city's south side is the largest of its kind in Southeast Missouri and is still relatively new, commencing operations in late 2014. Cape Girardeau's Public Works Department maintains more than 225 miles of sewer lines leading to the wastewater plant.

In regard to the city's electric service, the report notes that in 2017, electric rates in Cape Girardeau averaged as much as 15% less per kilowatt hour than the average rates in other Missouri communities and were up to 25% lower than national averages. However, natural gas rates in Cape Girardeau that year were as much as 60% above national averages.

Ameren Missouri provides both electric and natural gas services in Cape Girardeau and, according to the Vision 2040 report, "it appears Ameren has sufficient capacity and capability to meet current and future demand for these services."

As for Cape Girardeau's fiber optic network, emergency communications systems, and municipal facilities such as police and fire stations, the report cites several recent and ongoing improvement projects including the renovation of the Common Pleas Courthouse and adjacent annex building which, by mid-2021, will house Cape Girardeau's City Hall.

The Vision 2040 report's "high priority" goals for the city's infrastructure enhancements include:

* Completion of planned water system expansion and improvement projects over the next 20 years.

* Continuation of the city's infiltration and inflow reduction program to help sustain the city's sewer system capacity.

* Ongoing compliance of water quality requirements.

* Completion over the next 10 to 20 years of the Parks, Recreation and Stormwater 2 (PRS2) projects to make drainage improvements and enhance the city's stormwater system.

* Continue to maintain the Mississippi River floodwall and levee system to acceptable U.S. Army Corps of Engineers standards.

* Ongoing promotion of "green" infrastructure best practices for development and redevelopment purposes.

Other infrastructure objectives listed in the Cape Vision 2040 plan include updating of the master plans for the city's water and sewer systems; coordination with non-city utility providers on upgrading and expanding their systems; adopting a fiber optic infrastructure master plan; developing an asset management (repair and replacement) program for major city facilities; and continued upgrades to LED street lighting throughout the community.

Transportation & Mobility

With a transportation system consisting of streets, highways, pedestrian and bicycle routes, bus transit systems, freight rail, an airport and the Mississippi River, Cape Girardeau has a "robust transportation system," according to the Vision 2040 report.

Surveys conducted as part of the Cape Vision 2040 study found the vast majority of Cape residents rely on automobiles as their primary mode of transportation. However, they also told researchers they felt the city needs more bicycle and pedestrian pathways.

The report notes Cape Girardeau adopted a "complete streets policy" in 2018 "to create a comprehensive, integrated, balanced and connected transportation network where all users can travel safely and comfortably to promote a more livable community."

"The adoption of this policy aligns with the ideas expressed by residents during the Cape Vision 2040 community engagement process," according to the report, which says residents "expressed a desire for more sidewalks, bicycle lanes, pedestrian crossings, lighting and landscaping along Cape's streets."

Priority, the report says, should be given to Broadway, Independence Street, Sprigg Street, West End Boulevard and William Street, east of Kingshighway.

The Cape Vision 2040 planning document touches on all aspects and modes of local transportation including air, rail, and bus service as well as the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority which, the report says, plays a "critical role in connecting Southeast Missouri with the world economy."

Cape Girardeau's "high priority" transportation goals, according to the Cape Vision 2040 planning document, should include:

* Completion of the Transportation Trust Fund 5 (TTF5) street projects and repairs within the next few years along with planning for TTF6.

* Ongoing sidewalk repairs.

* Review, refine and promote the Southeast Metropolitan Planning Organization's Regional bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

* Ongoing coordination with public transportation agencies on upgrading and expanding their services.

* Complete the capital improvement sales tax projects for terminal and tower replacement and land acquisition at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport.

Harmonious Land Use

Land usage in Cape Girardeau, the Cape Vision 2040 report observes, has developed around several themes. The historic core of the city was developed using a traditional "urban grid" system while the rest of the city has largely been developed according to conventional suburban principals.

About half of the land in Cape Girardeau has been developed for residential use while most of the city's commercial development is concentrated along the Kingshighway, William Street and Interstate 55 corridors.

"From these observations, it is clear that the city has experienced a pattern of expansion focused, auto-dependent suburban development for many years," the report says.

In gathering information and input about Cape Girardeau's land usage, Teska Associates offered three approaches for land development over the next 20 years:

* Conventional -- continuing the current suburban pattern of low-density, single use, auto dependency and outward expansion.

* Retrofit and Redevelopment -- focusing on development and redevelopment within the current city boundaries and upgrading existing developments.

* Strategic Connections -- supporting both outward and inward growth and development.

"After reviewing the approaches with the community, the 'Retrofit and Redevelopment' approach was chosen as the preferred direction for future land use planning," according to the report, which went on to say "some elements of the 'Strategic Connections' approach should also be considered as they have a role in facilitating retrofit and redevelopment projects."

Cape Girardeau's population, as of last year, was 40,559, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. SEMPO has forecast the city's population will grow to 45,172 by 2040 in a "sustained growth scenario" while in an "enhanced growth scenario" the 2040 population is predicted to be 50,483.

"Given either level of growth, the 'Retrofit and Redevelopment' approach will help Cape Girardeau absorb additional households without overtaxing public services and infrastructure," according to the Cape Vision 2040 document.

The report goes on to make recommendations related to specific zones and neighborhoods within the city, but in terms of general action items, the plan's "high priority" land use goals include:

* Identification within the next five years of additional incentives to encourage rehabilitation and/or reuse of existing building inventory.

* Identify opportunities for infill development, again within the next five years.

* Revise the city's codes over the next five years to provide for large and medium-scale mixed-use development outside of the downtown area.

* Continue to prioritize the annexing of land into the city limits in order to make the corporate boundary more regular and to discourage substandard development along the city's periphery.

The complete report, including supporting data and additional recommendations, is available online at capevision2040.com.