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Friday, May 6, 2016

DREAM vision becomes clearer

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Representatives for the Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri (DREAM) program were in Monett this week to formally begin work on Monett's historic business district. After making a formal presentation on Tuesday, members of the team met with business owners in the 300 block of East Broadway to brainstorm on building improvements. City Administrator Dennis Pyle, seated at right, and Downtown Coordinator DJ Miller, second from left, looked over drawings of facade changes created by urban designer Dan Belcher, left, and landscape architect Russ Volmert, center, both with the engineering firm of Peckham Guyton Albers and Viets (PGVA). Looking on at right is Patrick Hanlon, project manager for PGAV.[Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
The first formal presentation by representatives of the Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri (DREAM) initiative offered perspective on how the program may proceed in Monett.

Patrick Hanlon, senior project manager with the engineering firm of Peckham Guyton Albers and Viets (PGAV), brought Russ Volmert, a landscape architect, and Dan Belcher, an urban designer, to speak to a meeting at the Monett Chamber of Commerce office on Tuesday and offer drawings of how to change a few of the downtown buildings.

Hanlon said the DREAM process typically waits until later to talk about reshaping the look of downtown. However, since Monett had already addressed questions about appearance in the study done by the Drury University architecture students and several building owners have already made cosmetic changes, Hanlon felt the facade discussion needed to come now.

Volmert led Tuesday's discussion. Using drawings and photographs from other DREAM cities, Volmert showed how other towns had reshaped their downtowns using ideas proposed by PGAV.

Starting with a section of buildings, the DREAM people will offer visualizations of how to make changes. In some towns, they had been asked for suggestions on spaces where buildings had left holes after fires. Monett was fortunate, he noted, in having few "missing teeth" in the line of buildings downtown.

A discussion followed on what kind of restoration the business owners wanted to see. Hanlon and Volmert stressed that the architectural variety and history of a downtown offered character and a sense of place. The key question became how closely did Monett want to pursue strict restoration back to the original look, which Volmert warned could be very expensive.

The business owners tended to follow John Bruner's preference for any look that brought in more customers.

The business operators leaned toward a combination of modern and classic styling, the kind of looks seen in the chamber office and the facade of Mocha Jo's. Openness to some less traditional approaches allowed the architects the freedom to pursue more options. Volmert said the use of Dryvit, an artificial stucco, would give many choices in color and relief work.

The DREAM approach to facades focused largely on conceptual assistance. Several examples were given of how communities used DREAM ideas as a springboard for larger initiatives on their own. In Chillicothe, for example, a DREAM drawing of using a boarded up building and an empty lot as a plaza became a focal point for a larger vision.

On Wednesday, the team talked to owners in the 300 block of East Broadway as they eyed buildings covered by metal siding. They made hand- drawn renderings of how the buildings might look if the siding came off and lights, depth, color and canopies changed. Their drawings offered a consistent look between the structures, highlighting the existing brickwork with a fresh and appealing update.

The approach made several presumptions, including the integrity of the brick front underneath the siding. In other towns, Hanlon said metal siding had tended to protect the original surfaces. A century of rain, however, and some soft bricks may leave trouble spots.

Many of the examples cited had been paid for by the building owners. Hanlon touched on some of the other funding options in the discussion. The city of Washington, for example, had established a tax increment financing (TIF) district in its downtown. Property owners in Hannibal established a community improvement district (CID) to raise money to build a flood levee that saved the downtown from a major flood a few months after completion. Community Development Block Grant money may be available to work through the not-for-profit corporation established by the Downtown Betterment Group, Hanlon said.

Historic preservation tax credits can come from both the state and federal governments. The process is cumbersome and slow, Hanlon said, requiring the creation of a historic preservation district, getting on the National Registry of Historic Places and seeking approval of plans by the State Historic Preservation Office.

None of the strategies offered an immediate infusion of cash into the downtown. A TIF would provide a pay-as-you-go approach, giving the property owner a property tax rebate for work done as business improved over time. A half-cent assessment of $100 of property in a CID would generate about $21,000 a year, calculated City Administrator Dennis Pyle, enough to help pay for facade improvements.

Volmert stressed that DREAM is a planning process that takes time. The Soulard district in St. Louis took more than 20 years to grow out of a rundown district of pre-Civil War buildings to an area of high property values.

The next step will be for city officials and DREAM representatives to work out a scope of services agreement to guide the next three years of work. The engineering firm of Bartlett and West will look at flooding issues.

At the Wednesday meeting, Hanlon said the general sentiment of downtown business owners was very positive.

"They have a sense of 'if we're going to do this, let's do it now,'" Hanlon said.

What DREAM brings to the process, Hanlon continued, is a way to coordinate streetscape and facade upgrades with marketing, gateway identification and signage. The combination provides benefits for all the businesses, rather than leaving gains to a few buildings or blocks.

Business and city leaders asked to have the DREAM effort focus on Broadway between Second and Sixth streets. Hanlon said follow-up work will include focus groups and an Internet-based survey to document public sentiment.

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