Downtown revitalization looks to the future

Thursday, December 6, 2001

Old Town Cape had its first birthday last month.

But unlike a 1-year-old child, its first year didn't feature huge leaps in development.

In fact, other than an Old Town Cape office on Independence Street, some small summer concerts and the Glass Act Awards honoring downtown merchants with creative window displays, there is little physical evidence of the group's activities.

The not-for-profit group is the umbrella for several programs to revitalize Cape Girardeau's downtown.

It is an admirable goal, all can agree.

Foremost among the programs is Main Street, a state-funded effort for downtown revitalization in many other cities across Missouri.

The hope here is that the group will bring new businesses to the empty storefronts, more customers to existing businesses and perhaps a new look overall for the city's downtown.

The efforts to do that began in March with a visit from a consultant who shared his vision for the area.

Among his suggestions: Buried power lines. Wider gaps in the seawall for better views of the Mississippi River. Fancy street lighting.

The consultant's report was big on creativity and vision but small on economics.

The plan would cost millions to execute for a group with an $80,000-a-year budget in a city that is too strapped for cash even to get any extras for its own public-service departments.

More recently, Old Town Cape hired another consultant to visit downtown businesses and tell them what they're doing right and wrong.

But there have been rumblings that the consultants and workshops are not enough. People want to see real changes.

That's understandable. Nobody wants more $80,000 years to pass with no downtown improvements to show for it.

Perhaps downtown business owners who support Old Town Cape are correct when they say the first year of any organization's life is when groundwork is laid for the big stuff.

And the group certainly has some big ideas -- not just the aesthetically pleasing ones illustrated by the consultant in March, but ideas that, if brought to fruition, would mean real changes for Cape Girardeau.

The group is working on a Fountain Street extension to connect the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge with downtown.

They want to continue the concerts and increase participation in a downtown walkers group.

And they want to attract three new businesses appropriate for downtown in the next year.

The community is interested in seeing downtown, and all parts of Cape Girardeau, thrive. Certainly taxpayers will be watching with interest to see if the group meets its goals.

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