(Photo by Michelle Felter, Staff)
Kuehn began work Aug. 18 as executive director of Sikeston's Historic Midtown Development Group. And he's already busy at work, with the group in the midst of planning events, making renovations through the Transportation Enhancement Grant and plans to carry out the DREAM City designation.
"I've got to catch up on all this stuff," he said. "The physical tearing up of the sidewalks (on Front Street as part of the transportation grant) began the week after I started, so I've got to hit the ground running."
Kuehn has also been busy making plans for the group's second annual Cotton Heritage Festival, slated for Sept. 27.
"The community support that I've seen so far is amazing," he said. "A lot of times (with the Main Street program) it's implemented but just there. Here, it's got a lot of community support."
That's apparent because the group does need a full-time director, and even has an office provided by the city, said Kuehn.
He also pointed out there is a lot of economic support from those involved. "People remember Sikeston from their childhood and want it to be that way again," he said.
And those individuals focus a lot of time and energy on that goal. "For people who lead very busy lives to make that time every week is excellent," he said. "For me, it's a full-time job, but for them to take all that time out of their days and weekends, it is just tremendous."
Kuehn graduated with a degree in historic preservation in 2007 from Southeast Missouri State University. A Ste. Genevieve native, he heard about the position through his advisor. Kuehn's wife also got a job in Sikeston, so it seemed like a perfect fit, he said.
Kuehn said he's gotten a good reception from group members and residents thus far. They have been helpful in painting a picture of the past to him.
"There are things you know by growing up here, and the only way I'm going to learn that is by someone telling me," he said. "I've gone out and met a lot of the store owners, and they've been very helpful."
Kuehn said one of his biggest goals is to draw more business to the downtown area.
"In the short time I've been here, I've heard so many people say they'd like to see more restaurants, stores, antique shops, that sort of thing," he said. "That's what really makes a downtown thrive."
He encouraged any entrepreneurs or others looking to open a business to consider downtown, and to meet with him with any questions. Rent is typically less expensive on buildings in the area, Kuehn pointed out, and tax benefits are possible. There is also a good relationship among business owners in the area.
"There are a bunch of vacant properties down here and we would love to see them fill up," said Kuehn. "We would go above and beyond to help people."
As executive director, he wants to keep the existing festivals the HMDG has organized over the years, plus add a few. It's also a goal of his and the organization to get more events downtown.
"Next spring or summer, it's our goal to have something in a park (either Malone or American Legion) every weekend," he said.
Those events could be as simple as a movie in the park or a band, and would be a cooperative effort amongst HMDG and other civic groups, said Kuehn. What's most important is getting people downtown and making it a place they visit on a regular basis.
"The more time people spend downtown, the more they can see the updates," he said. Current improvements include the new sidewalks and period lighting, now under construction as part of the transportation grant.
"It's also big for the merchants," said Kuehn. "(Those attending) might walk around a couple of blocks and see something in the storefronts they didn't know was here."
Kuehn said he looks forward to meeting anyone who wants to talk about downtown Sikeston, or share ideas. His phone number is 380-3801, and e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Updates and other information is available on the HMDG Web site, www.downtownsikeston.org.