Work on moving forward with ideas shaped by Drury University students over the future of Monett's downtown has started. Two meetings have been held to exchange ideas on plan details and strategies for what to do next.
Downtown business operators have met with City Administrator Dennis Pyle and Jeff Barber, architecture specialist from the University of Missouri Extension Service. Since many of the merchants had not attended the visioning sessions presented by the Drury students, the Monett Chamber of Commerce, the city government and the Downtown Betterment Group, the meeting with business operators largely focused on exchanging information about the Drury recommendations.
This week members of the advisory committee who started sessions with the Drury students at the beginning of their class project in January met. Pyle, who moderated the gathering with Chamber Executive Director Suzy McElmurry, said it would take about three more weeks for copies of the book detailing the students' vision to arrive. Regular subcommittee meetings could start then.
In the meantime, Pyle suggested dividing those in the advisory committee into four subject areas. Rather than following the structure of the Drury book by focusing on different geographic locations, Pyle felt more ground could be covered by a topical strategy.
The largest number of volunteers voiced an interest in working on flood mitigation. Their focus included stormwater basins, land banking and channel modifications.
"With Front Street mostly empty, there's no better time to put property in a land bank," Tim Dieckhoff said. Potential reservoirs along the course of water drainage, it was noted, could be re-examined in light of construction that has taken place in the last 10 years.
"I don't want us to feel overwhelmed by the flooding issue," Pyle said.
A number of people had commented getting control of the flood situation had to be done first before moving forward with many of the envisioned improvements, Pyle acknowledged. However, wrestling with flood issues alone could bring the rest of the visioning effort to a halt.
"There are lots of things we can do outside of the flood plan," Pyle said.
Gateways and pocket parks were suggested as a separate field. Deciding on markers or monuments to identify the east and west ends of the downtown business district, Highway 60 wayfinding signage, how to proceed with the roundabout at Central and Broadway and possible locations for pocket parks all fit under this category.
Entrance into Monett on Highway 60, committee members confirmed, is not easily recognized because there are few signs identifying the city limits. Pyle said the Drury students identified the signage at Highways 37 and 60 as too far back from the road to be effectively visible. They suggested another way to mark the spot was needed, other than a billboard.
A third area identified for work covered facades, streetscapes and parking. Encouraging a return to the earlier brick fronts on downtown buildings, widening sidewalks and developing other parking locations off-Broadway fit under this category.
The final focus area targeted development of the proposed city center park on Front Street and event pavilions. Developing a farmer's market, community gardens, a sprayground water park and open-air amphitheater fell under this topic.
Participation in the advisory group is still open. At this point, it appeared there would only be four or five people concentrating on the various focus areas. Smaller groups would make it easier to schedule meetings, Pyle said. He anticipated the full group would meet every other month or quarterly. Committees would meet more often to focus on specifics. It seemed that meetings at 5:30 p.m. would be convenient for all participants.
Mayor Jim Orr offered the expertise that city employees could bring to the discussion. Utilities Superintendent Pete Rauch has studied flooding extensively. Building Inspector George Rausch could share ideas on downtown building appearances. Parks Superintendent Russ Balmas could be helpful in planning a new park on Front Street, the mayor said.
Pyle said implementing ideas would be where Barber with the Extension Service brings his expertise into play. Business owner Sharon Garrett recalled that at the meeting with business owners, Barber urged joining the Main Street program as a way of further accessing resources.
Several committee members wondered about getting more participation from Hispanics in the community in the process. Except for several individuals and their families who have direct ties to the Chamber, few Hispanics had attended the meetings.
Pyle and McElmurry said they had taken a translator and gone to each of the Hispanic-owned businesses, encouraging the owners to participate.
"It's just going to take time to build trust," McElmurry said.
Pyle encouraged the group to proceed expecting the overall effort to take around 20 years to complete. McElmurry said the Drury book is only a guideline. Committee members would have to determine what the community should pursue. A final recommendation for action by the city would have to come from the committee, Pyle said.