A new Downtown group that would work with state and local organizations to improve St. Joseph’s Downtown district while focusing on historic preservation could see a start this summer.
Mo-Kan Regional Council has applied for a grant to receive technical assistance through Missouri Main Street Connection to create a Main Street Program in St. Joe. The organization has its roots in historic preservation, but also works to improve economic, social and cultural amenities in Missouri cities.
“It was developed out of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but it has evolved into a really impactful economic development tool that can be used to provide structure for the revitalization of urban areas,” Mo-Kan Executive Director Nic Hutchison said.
While St. Joseph already has several Downtown organizations with similar goals, Director of Planning and Community Development for the City of St. Joseph Clint Thompson said this group would be a kind of collaboration.
“The intent of the grant is to partner with all interest groups and stake holders Downtown to work in a collaborative effort to help promote Downtown, preserve its historic character and (discover) how to move the Downtown forward collectively as one group,” Thompson said.
This does not mean that the existing groups will be reformed into this singular organization.
“Our goal is not to eliminate or consolidate,” Hutchison said.
According to Hutchison, some groups have said they would agree to dissolve if the Main Street Program works. Those groups have not yet been identified and no decisions are final at this time.
The $30,800 grant would provide technical assistance to get started over a two-year period. The grant will see a 60%/40% cost share between Missouri Main Street Program and Mo-Kan, respectively.
While the city does not have any money involved in the program, City Council support was needed. A resolution was approved earlier this week.
The city also hopes to use program as a template to improve another area of town that serves as an entrance to the Downtown District.
“Once that becomes a reality and if it’s successful Downtown, we hope to implement that same Main Street concept along the Frederick Avenue corridor,” Thompson said. “Obviously the City Council has an emphasis on Downtown, but there’s also increased emphasis on improving our gateway into the Downtown corridor.”
Thompson said a blight study done on Frederick between roughly 18th Street and 25th Street surveyed 100 properties and determined over 40% of them were blighted. While there has been some improvement since that study, he believes more could be done in the area.
The city funds Mo-Kan annually as an investment to see economic improvements in the city. Hutchison, a former St. Joseph city planner, requested $20,000 from the council in this year’s budget. While this is the same amount Mo-Kan received from the city last year, former City Manager Bruce Woody had not recommended any funds be allocated to the group this year due to lost revenue from flooding and COVID-19.
Ultimately, the council decided to approve the $20,000 with expectations of seeing financial benefit from the investment.
Thompson believes this grant application is a result of that effort and supports the council’s decision to keep Mo-Kan funded.
“I think what the City Council’s mission is, ‘How can leverage the public dollars to raise additional funds from the limited amount of resources we have,’” he said. “I think they viewed the Mo-Kan funding allocation this year as a way to leverage additional funds. I think that’s what you’re seeing with this grant application.”
The formation of a group could begin in August of this year, but it will take some time to work out a long-term plan and program.