A group of business owners has a vision for a better, brighter, busier downtown Nixa.
One grant program is already launching efforts to make the area surrounding the intersection of Main Street and Missouri Highway 14 a commercial destination for shopping and entertainment. A second grant program could soon lead to downtown buildings, some of them a century old, makeovers.
On June 10, the Nixa City Council accepted a $24,000 matching grant from Missouri Main Street Connection, Inc. The city entered into a partnership with the Nixa Downtown Revitalization Committee to handle its minority portion of the 60-40 percent match grant obligations. The revitalization committee will pay $5,300, and the city will pay $4,300.
Downtown business owner Eric Albers has been part of the Nixa Downtown Revitalization Committee from its early days. Albers’ interest in downtown Nixa is twofold. He is an architect who enjoys revising and redeveloping commercial areas, and his firm’s office is on South Main Street.
“I’m from this area and I used to come to some of the events in the downtown area of Nixa when I was younger. I would love to see the vitality of that area be brought back up to where it used to be,” Albers said.
Missouri Main Street Connection is a not-for-profit organization that serves as a clearinghouse for information, technical assistance, research and advocacy for its member cities. It provides consultation, conferences, publications and trainings all designed around revamping downtown areas for economic growth. The organization, according to city council documents, will help, “stimulate economic development and the preservation of downtown Nixa.”
Nixa City Administrator Jimmy Liles said the program will offer some expert advice on how to revamp a vital part of the city.
“It does cover on-site training from Missouri Main Street as well as support for the next two years,” Liles said.
Innovative Sound owner Mark Hartsock said the initial grant with Missouri Main Street Connection opens up opportunities for business owners to secure additional help in developing projects in downtown Nixa.
“The city council did vote to endorse and help us become part of the Missouri Main Street program, which is really just a kickstart to some wonderful grant programs in really saving the crossroads of the Ozarks and bringing back our original downtown Nixa district,” Hartsock said.
The grant marks the transition to a new phase of making Main Street a destination.
“We’ve been working two years now to try to raise funds, to try to get the community back behind us and the city behind us to start that process. Right now, we’re getting ready to actually start that process and really start that phase of downtown revitalization,” Albers said.
“It’s really not just about the buildings. It is about the location, it is about the area, it’s about bringing community together,” Hartsock said.
Hartsock explained that the downtown group wants to plan and host more events such as Sucker Days in the spring and Creepin’ at the Crossroads in October to help bolster the downtown economy and encourage people to visit Nixa.
“This is an amazing opportunity,” District I Councilman Jimmy Ledbetter said.
“I agree with Mr. Ledbetter," Liles said. "I think this is a great way to support the downtown revitalization efforts. Technically, this will come out of the community betterment fund that we have budgeted. It will put us slightly over budget, because we don’t quite have enough in that fund to cover the full amount, but I’m confident that we can absorb it within the overall budget.”
Liles recommended that the Nixa City Council make the financial move to accept the grant.
“We can afford it, and I think it would be a great step in the right direction for the downtown revitalization efforts,” Liles said.
FACELIFTS FOR BUILDINGS
Nixa Director of Planning and Development Travis Cossey explained that the facade improvement program was first conceptualized with a downtown district in mind. City employees explored broadening the idea to include additional aging buildings in Nixa, and uniquely arrived at 44 years as an age of distinction.
The Nixa Department of Planning and Development was founded in 1987, which marked the first time that the city of Nixa started keeping accurate building records.
“Our building records do not go past 1987,” Cossey said. “Anything constructed prior to 1987, they did not keep records for.”
Cossey was able to find an aerial photograph of Nixa taken from a plane in 1975, establishing a 44-year reference of Nixa’s commercial development. Cossey and his staff identified some properties outside of the downtown district around Highway 14 and Main Street that had structures on them in 1975.
“We identified 14 businesses, 14 buildings that would be eligible for funding outside of the original district boundaries,” Cossey said.
Ledbetter, Nixa’s mayor pro tem, presided over the discussion of the facade grant program. Mayor Brian Steele recused himself from all discussion and voting because he operates a business in the downtown Nixa district. Ledbetter commended Cossey and his staff for finding the aerial photograph from 1975 and using it to broaden the scope of the facade improvement program.
“This was innovative, so I appreciate you guys doing that,” Ledbetter said.
Not all of the buildings in downtown Nixa are 44 years of age are older, but they do fall inside the boundary lines on a map drawn when the Nixa City Council initially started exploring the creation of a facade grant program.
The downtown business owners supported the use of the 44-year-old aerial photograph.
“Just looking at that overlay was very interesting, because a lot of the buildings in the downtown area were already in there. Some of the new ones that were added to that list due to age are also in the fairway of the crossroads, it just starts to extend it out a little bit further,” Albers said.
The city council reached a compromise between defining a downtown district and allowing buildings constructed prior to 1975 to be eligible. Councilman Scott Perryman introduced an idea of a “hybrid” compromise.
“For example, everything in the downtown district regardless of age qualifies. In addition to that, anything pre-’75 qualifies outside of that district,” Perryman said.
The other council members liked Perryman’s hybrid idea so much that they directed Cossey and his staff to run with in it in preparing a bill to one day be adopted into an ordinance.
“As long as we’re feeding back to our businesses, that’s the biggest thing. As long as we’re giving facelifts to the buildings that need facelifts, that’s what I want to see,” Ledbetter said.
Nixa Chamber of Commerce Director Chris Russell also supported the possibility of offering facade improvement grants to business owners outside of the immediate downtown area.
“I love this idea that you guys are considering,” Russell said. “It has to be a part of, at some point, the greater plan to really revitalize downtown, and that’s not just Main Street south, that is basically the downtown district.”
A facade improvement grant program would be subject to annual review and budgetary restrictions by the Nixa City Council. Each year, council members would have discretion on how much money to offer up for building improvement grants.
“The money is not budgeted at this time, just for clarification. We are going to have to come back to council with whatever dollar amount we decide with a budget amendment. The last direction we have from council is to move (money) from the economic development fund, earmarked over to the budget,” Liles said. “Whatever amount we decide, we’ll bring that back for a vote.”