I enjoy taking a couple of small walks during the day. Thanks to a desk job, my back isn’t the best. The walks help keep my old bones feeling better.
Co-workers like to give me a hard time about being careful and I should tell someone I’m leaving. The insinuation is the newspaper office — located in downtown Poplar Bluff — isn’t in the best of neighborhoods.
I get their point, but I’ve never been one to shy away from something unless I feel really unsafe. That hasn’t happened yet.
The recent talk by the Poplar Bluff City Council about where to locate a new city hall and jail has prompted the discussion about what to do with our downtown.
Or better stated: How can we improve downtown?
Let me first commend the city council for changing its mind about where to locate city hall. Instead of a Shelby Road location, members have decided to locate it downtown. The Poplar Bluff Police Department’s new home appears to be headed for that Shelby Road location.
Some argue both should be downtown. The public has overwhelmingly showed support for the city hall to be downtown. As for the police station, feelings are mixed.
Our council members listened to the citizens. Not a lot of politicians are doing that these days.
You can go to any city in the country and speak to someone over 70 — or maybe even 50 — and they’ll talk about how their downtown isn’t the same. Businesses have closed and moved closer to a major highway or the edges of their city.
The businesses that are left oftentimes struggle without a lot of foot traffic.
Downtowns that remain an important part of a community are the ones that get support from their city, residents, civic organizations, and business community. And probably No. 1 on the list: Someone is willing to financially support development.
Poplar Bluff’s downtown won’t magically improve because city hall is located there. But it’s certainly a start.
We already have a beautiful library and the Butler County Sheriff’s Department’s building is nice. The Butler County Courthouse is downtown. We have attractive brick streets. Haffy’s Bar and Grill, the Bronze Owl, Myrtles Place, and Foxtrot Coffee are nice places to eat and gather with friends. The Rodgers Theatre provides quality entertainment and is in the midst of a revitalization.
There are other businesses downtown, which provide needed services for our community.
Downtown Poplar Bluff, Inc. is an organization that was created in 2009, and its mission statement reads, “The mission of Downtown Poplar Bluff, Inc. is to assist the City and property owners in the promotion of downtown Poplar Bluff as an economic, historic and family-friendly cultural center.”
Jerrica Fox is the executive director, and she and her board do a good job of promoting downtown.
The organization, though, can only do so much. The city, private individuals, business developers, and our community leaders will need to step up and take downtown to the next level.
Our downtown won’t turn into a destination spot next week, next month or even next year. It will take time.
Should we develop a long-term plan of action? Should it provide clear direction and objectives? What do we want our downtown to become? How are we going to do it? Do we want downtown to become a place that offers restaurants, entertainment, and specialty shops?
Without clear objectives, we will spin our wheels.
The newspaper does its part by keeping our aging building in the best shape possible. We also believe it’s important to keep the topic of improving our downtown in the spotlight. It would be disappointing if we were having the same conversation five, 10 and 15 years from now.
We need people to step up and offer solutions and not just complain about what the downtown isn’t. They need to have a vision of what it can become.
One such person is Ben Traxel with Dille and Traxel Architects. He spoke at the Sept. 16 city council a meeting and made some great points.
He said, “good or bad, every city has an identity. It is remembered based on the experiences people have when visiting, moving about and participating in what a city has to offer.”
He added, “When a city cares about its buildings, its history and traditions, it shows civic pride and garners community support. … (To say) our downtown is dead and cannot be revived is lazy. There are countless success stories throughout the state and country of revived downtowns.”
Traxel also said, and it’s a great point, having city hall downtown would “not only provide an anchor, but a front door to our downtown and would be a magnificent statement in recreating Poplar Bluff’s identity.”
This kind of passion will go a long way in changing Poplar Bluff’s downtown.
Chris is publisher of the Daily American Republic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .