What appeared to be a benign agenda item at a Nixa City Council meeting became a controversy as a plan to revitalize one of Nixa’s busiest areas died on the debate floor. 

A bill to create a new chapter in city code—called “Revitalization Programs”—died out when council members disagreed on its focus and two residents objected to the concept as a whole.

If adopted, the legislation would establish a grant process to improve the facades of Nixa’s downtown buildings. The annual money allocated would not exceed $15,000 with each successful grant not exceeding $7,500.

Applicants would follow strict criteria, subject to city council approval, for improvements to buildings in a defined downtown development area surrounding the intersection of Mt. Vernon and Main streets. The money would  have to be spent to improve a building’s appearance, not for new construction. 

That was the main bone of contention for some council members. Some wanted to keep the focus on downtown; some thought broadening the scope would be best.

“I’m ready to work on just the downtown,” District 3 Councilwoman Darlene Graham said. “We need to concentrate on that area right now. “ 

Councilman Justin Orf, also representing District 3, agreed.

“I don’t want to see other businesses compete with the downtown businesses (for grant money,") Orf said. “Downtown is our focus…it should be the main focus.”

Mayor Brian Steele immediately recused himself from the discussion, citing a conflict of interest. 

District 2 Councilman Aron Peterson voiced his preference for including other buildings in Nixa outside of the downtown development area.

Chris Russell, director of the Nixa Chamber of Commerce, quickly seized on that idea during public comment.

“Limiting it to a district makes it look like we just care about one section of town,” Russell said. “Let’s put an age on the buildings — 55 is the number I came up with today…

I this is fantastic for some of our business owners. We look at age range not just a district range. “

District 1 Councilman Jimmy Ledbetter said other areas of the city would benefit.

“I really like that idea,” Ledbetter said. “We have some strip centers needing attention.” 

But District 2 Councilman Matthew Barker remained conservative.

“The whole purpose of this was for downtown, why change it now,” he said. “We don’t have infinite money… this isn’t something (on which) I see budgeting fifty grand a year.”

City Administrator Jimmy Liles said the original focus when the bill was written was downtown, but that the language could be modified.

“The original concept was to focus on the downtown area,” he said. “I would be in favor of doing two separate programs, because we have the districts already drawn out.  But I am open to either concept. If we are opening it up (to a larger area), $15,000 doesn’t go too far.”

“Too far” is exactly what Shannon and Zach Marsden thought of the program overall.

“This is taxpayer funded grants,” Shannon Marsden said. “I have been in meetings where we have talked about getting rid of line items, budget cuts, that actually impact taxpayers.”

Zach Marsden said if council approves the program it shouldn’t be limited to downtown.

“I don’t agree with this program,” he said. “An ugly building in Nixa is an ugly building in Nixa. It shouldn’t matter where it is. From a city council standpoint it shouldn’t matter. I don’t agree with this program.”

While most council members favored the incentive, the scope remained unresolved.

“I wanna go big or go home,” Ledbetter said. “To me it sounds like we have questions.”

The city council refused to bring the ordinance to a second reading, allowing it to die on the debate floor. Nixa City Attorney Timothy Ricker said the members have the option of bringing a retooled version to the floor later.

“I agree with not voting on this right now,” Barker said. “We are talking beautification when we just cut benefits for our employees.”

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