Plans under way for downtown access

Downtown Cape Girardeau has all the makings of a revival.

There's the Marquette Hotel, a one-time eyesore that soon will be a state office and retail complex. The impact such an enterprise will have on the downtown neighborhood -- one where some businesses have come and gone with astounding speed over the past couple of decades -- is sure to be impressive.

There's a new federal building to be constructed next to City Hall, a project on the horizon but still one likely to generate more downtown activity.

There's the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, set to open late this year if the schedule holds true.

And finally, there's Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus, the linchpin of plans to get visitors rolling into downtown.

So it's appropriate that the university should take over a very important element of this plan: a way to get people onto its riverside campus and to the rest of the projects mentioned and to downtown retail businesses.

The River Campus is to be a visual and performing arts school, regional museum, visitors center and performance hall that will operate on a campus that formerly was a Catholic seminary. The university has agreed that the entrance should be from a new street (called the Fountain Street extension) that will go from Highway 74 (the highway to the new bridge), across Morgan Oak and on to William Street at Indian Park. William Street is in the process of being widened from Sprigg Street to the downtown area.

The Fountain Street extension would exit Highway 74 just 500 feet from the Missouri end of the new bridge. It's the first right turn motorists from Illinois would encounter.

Old Town Cape, a grant-funded group of merchants and other groups interested in improving downtown, had initiated the Fountain Street project and had gone so far as to start engineering work, but the university now has given the planning duties to the same company that had been handling the rest of the River Campus project's engineering.

Old Town Cape's leaders acknowledge that the university can speed up the project. Of course, all interested in Cape Girardeau's economic health are eager to see all of these downtown projects proceed quickly and thrive.

There very well could be other transportation issues in that area in the future. City planner Kent Bratton confirms there are several ideas on the table for moving traffic around the River Campus, including connecting Morgan Oak Street to Aquamsi Street, which runs along the river.

There are no firm plans yet, but one would hope the same can-do, cooperative spirit would prevail in those projects as well.