Old Town Cape lays foundation in its first year

Monday, November 26, 2001

The first year of a group created to revitalize downtown Cape Girardeau has been one fixed on laying fundamental groundwork for projects that will bear more visible fruit in the future, according to organizers and business owners.

Old Town Cape -- the name selected for a program that represents a wide area of the downtown -- set up shop in November 2000, and since then the group has done "an amazing amount of work," said executive director Catherine Dunlap.

"Right now, we're building the foundation on which to build a strong organization," said Dunlap, 27.

While there have been rumblings from some that the group has not done enough, Dunlap points to a list of accomplishments ranging from opening the office at 111 Independence and adopting a logo to completing an inventory of every business in the district and conducting market surveys to show gaps in the downtown's drawing power.

The organization has also designed a walking tour, brought in consultants to help design a conceptual streetscape and to talk about making businesses a destination and helped other groups put on events like a fine arts show and an arts festival.

"We're only a year old," Dunlap said. "That's not bad. We've done a lot of diverse activities and set a lot of goals."

Visible progress later

The group -- which encompasses an area from Water Street along Broadway to Pacific Street and to Morgan Oak, which leads to the Mississippi River bridge -- is part of the state's Main Street Program.

Greg Williams is president of the board as well as the Regional Chamber and Growth Association executive director. He said progress for the first year has been good.

"We've laid a lot of groundwork," he said. "We've been doing that so we can make some visible progress in years three, four and five. That's just the way these programs work."

Some have said that the group has produced little for the $80,000 first-year budget. The budget includes money for office expenses, planning and Dunlap's salary.

Evelyn Boardman, owner of Rose Madder Accents and Antiques at 1 N. Main, said she's heard complaints from a few people, but she thinks it's unfair.

"Sometimes we expect too much at the onset," she said. "That kind of talk always comes from people who don't really get involved with it. It's been active in a lot of ways that people don't realize. I'm impressed with them."

Charlie Hutson of Hutson's Fine Furniture said it's a concerted effort that has been lacking. He said that those saying not enough has happened should give the program some time.

"They ought to say that after five or 10 years," he said. "It's true these are baby steps, but there are always naysayers. It's a special person that can be positive from the get-go and positive when nothing is done, but positive that something will be done."

Kent Zickfield of Zickfield Jewelers at 29 N. Main said it has been a worthwhile program.

"You have to understand when you get into a program that it's at least going to be five years," he said. "We knew going in it was going to be several years before we see any tangible results. Right now, it's all behind the scenes."

Generating ideas

Zickfield pointed to the committees that have been set up through Old Town Cape that are working on generating new ideas on how to make the district more attractive to shoppers. The organization is made up of four committees -- Economic Restructuring, Design, Promotion and Organization, each led and made up of business leaders.

The committees are in place to help improve the economic base by strengthening existing businesses and recruiting new businesses, work to enhance the area, promote positive images and work with public and private sector leaders to coordinate resources for Main Street initiatives.

"These committees are working diligently to try and accomplish goals and the public doesn't even know it's going on," Dunlap said. "It's not like you have a humongous building sprouting up, but there's a lot of work going on. These projects take time."

Dunlap said that the upcoming projects should silence critics.

Recruiting businesses

The written form of the market analysis should be available in January, she said. The analysis will look at what needs there are and then businesses can be recruited to fit those needs.

In fact, she said, one of Old Town Cape's goals is to recruit three new businesses within the next year to fit those needs.

The group is also working on a Fountain Street Corridor that will connect the downtown area to the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, which is currently under construction. The proposed street would have to be built but would go from the bridge's base in between Lorimier and Asher streets to Indian Park.

The street, as proposed would be tree-lined and have signs pointing the way to the downtown. Old Town Cape will present conceptual drawings to the Cape Girardeau City Council Dec. 3, Dunlap said. They plan to apply for grant money to pay for engineering and planning, if the council approves of the plan, she said. The street would also feature a hiking and biking path.

"The ultimate goal is to basically make a pleasant way for people to come off the bridge and straight to Old Town Cape," she said.

She said there were no preliminary estimates on cost. She said the next phase would include figuring out who owns the property and how it can be attained. She envisions construction beginning within the next five years.

Old Town Cape also will continue its concert series, and promotions will increase. Marketing tools, such as an upcoming 100 Best Things About Old Town Cape, will be developed, she said.

"We've got a lot going on, and we're going to have a lot more going on," she said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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