SIKESTON - A new name for the Downtown Merchants Association is only the first of many changes its members hope to make.
The Historic Midtown Development Group, which replaces the Downtown Merchants Association, was formed with a specific goal in mind, according to the group's president, Robin Pace: "To improve our downtown area to bring in more visitors, more tourists, but also for the enjoyment of the people who live here."
The idea for the change got its start at the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce.
"What happened is the Chamber of Commerce asked the existing Downtown Merchants Association if they would be willing to reorganize as a committee of the Chamber because they were not very active at the time," explained Missy Marshall, SACC's executive director. "They thought that was a great idea so we met and started discussing what the needs of the area were, the hopes and the dreams, and out of that we discovered they needed to be their own non-profit organization in order to access grants and programs that are available to downtown or historic areas."
The group has filed to become a tax-exempt 501 C-3 corporation and now has its own bylaws, officers, bank accounts and procedures "but is working very closely with the Chamber of Commerce," Marshall said.
"We have a great group that are working very hard to improve and revitalize our downtown area," Pace said.
In addition to Pace, the group's officers include Roger Craft, vice president; Jim Bucher, treasurer; and Kathy Medley, secretary.
"They have already determined a district to start with and over the years that area will eventually grow - that's why the organization is called the Historic Midtown Development Group," Marshall said. "Their main focus for the time being is the downtown area but the group is keeping in mind expanding for both business and residential areas."
The district's east-west initial boundaries are Moore and Stoddard. The north-south boundaries are North and Kathleen on the west side of Kingshighway and Tanner and Greer on the east side of Kingshighway.
As any significant changes will take money, the group has been researching three possible sources for funding: the Missouri Department of Economic Development's Neighborhood Assistance Program; Community Development Block Grants; and Main Street programs.
According to its guideline packet, the Neighborhood Assistance Program was created to assist endangered communities and their residents in the improvement of their quality of life.
The program enables corporations such as the Historic Midtown Development Group to accept donations which earn substantial tax credits for donors to offset their state taxes with.
Among the NAP's eligible project categories are physical revitalization projects that aid in the physical improvement or rehabilitation of Missouri communities.
"Some of the other options we're looking at are purchasing real estate for revitalization," Pace said. "If we purchase some blighted properties and then revitalized them it would be beneficial to the entire downtown area."
The money can not be used to refurbish city assets such as streets or water and sewer facilities, however.
Several of the group's members will meet with Joe E. Lane, director of community planning for the Bootheel Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission at Malden, at 8 a.m. June 21 at City Hall to discuss the second possible funding source, Community Development Block Grants. "He was very instrumental in helping Kennett with their revitalization efforts," Pace said.
Unlike NAP funds, CDBGs can be used to improve public facilities.
The third possible funding source researched by the group, the Missouri Main Street Program, was established within the Department of Economic Development by Missouri Revised Statutes with the stated purpose of community and economic revitalization and development of older central business districts and neighborhoods.
Additionally, members of the community are donating their time and expertise to other related efforts.
"Some of the options that we are considering are the possibility of offering stock options. The cost of the stock would be like $25 per share and allow the stock holder one vote," Pace said. "To purchase a stock, one would have to live in or have real estate in this geographic midtown area we have established."
Marshall said city staff and elected officials have been helpful with dealing with absentee landlords, code enforcement and other property matters.
"There's a process to everything and city officials are helping us with those processes," she said.
Delilah Tayloe, curator of the Sikeston Depot, has agreed to do historic research on some of the downtown buildings, according to Pace. "She's categorizing them by age and restoration value to see which ones qualify for funding," she said.
Another volunteer, Harry Sharp, is working on a putting together a MOCAP assessment for the city, according to Pace.
"It's really an intense, in-depth assessment. It's very useful when we start applying for grants," she said. "That in itself is a huge undertaking."
"We have some great officers and volunteers who are reviewing plans and progress of other communities that have taken on this effort," Marshall said. "It's not something that can happen overnight - it's going to take some time - but it will benefit not only the downtown area but the entire Sikeston-Miner community."