Last updated: August 27. 2013 4:45AM - 156 Views

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Editor's Note: This is the first story in the Democrat’s “Downtown in Focus” series, which will run in each weekend edition through the end of November. The series will take an in-depth look at the successes and challenges faced by ongoing efforts to revitalize Sedalia’s downtown business district.

Six years ago, Sedalia was one of the first communities in the state to receive a designation from the Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri (DREAM) initiative. Sedalia chose to take advantage of the program through consulting, receiving $200,000 worth of services for various studies, allowing a five-year strategic plan to be formed.

“It was a very significant project for us,” said Administrator of Sedalia Downtown Development Inc. Meg Liston. “At the end of 2009, we closed out the first phase of DREAM, but we’ve been using the studies we conducted constantly in looking for ways to revitalize the downtown area.”

The DREAM planning studies included land use and infrastructure analysis, community and consumer surveys, retail market and residential demand analysis, financial assistance reviews and a marketing plan. The final step was to create a downtown strategic plan, which was completed in 2010.

“The DREAM program got us started in the right direction to revitalizing the downtown area,” Liston said. “But unfortunately, the end of the DREAM period coincided with the start of the economic decline and that really hurt us in trying to attract business downtown. When it was first announced we had a lot of interest from developers, but as that time wore on and it became clear there wouldn’t be a quick solution, it became a real problem.”

Liston said SDDi and other groups began looking at ways to “stimulate entrepreneurship” and while the projects may have not proceeded as quickly as she would have liked, there “have been a lot of real, tangible improvements.”

According to Community Development Director John Simmons, since 2006, there have been approximately $16.5 million in private investments and $6 million in public

investments to the area. In addition, 171 net jobs have been gained and two streetscape projects completed. One of the biggest goals for the revitalization included bringing 152 residential units to the area. With the Commerce Building apartments complete and the addition of Furnell Companies’ Cromwell Court, downtown is “well on its way to hitting that number” Liston said.

“Cromwell Court and the new apartments being built by Furnell will definitely get us to our goal,” she said. “We’ve seen the population around downtown grow immensely in the past few years and until there’s a saturation, we’d like to see more residential units built.”

“I believe that if we bring people to live downtown, shops and restaurants will follow,” said David Furnell. “Between The Essex and Cromwell Court, along with our new apartments that are being built on East Second Street, we’re making a commitment to bring residential properties to downtown Sedalia.”

Aside from building new property, Furnell Companies also renovated Hotel Bothwell and the Fox Theater and turned the Furnell Landmark Building into a mixed-use facility, with retail space on the first floor, Furnell Companies headquarters on its second floor and an assisted living facility on the third floor.

“We tend to have a more long-term look at downtown,” Furnell said. “When the economy took a nose-dive, it affected a lot of businesses, ours included. The timing of DREAM and the economy was a shame, but I really think downtown is on its way to being a more vital part of this community.”

Both Furnell and Liston said they’d like to see the third phase of the streetscape project finished, with Liston noting it’s now her “main goal.”

“It all depends on funding,” she said. “Unless we can find funding through the state, which is unlikely, the city will have to pay for the project or possibly we can do it through TIF funds. Unfortunately there are other, more pressing (city) projects jumping up all over the place. We do want to see the third phase completed; it will help downtown immensely.”

Simmons added he didn’t expect to start the third phase until 2014.

“With the first two phases, retail downtown took a bit of a hit because we were closing down streets and sidewalks to get them complete,” he said. “And, thanks to the tenacity of the merchants, it was worth it. I’d like to see the streetscape finished sooner, but we haven’t identified funding for it yet.”

Liston said while a lack of funding has hurt the timeline for some projects, there are many behind-the-scenes things that have been done.

“There are a lot of things we’ve worked on that don’t require huge sums of money; we definitely have enough to keep us busy,” she said. “DREAM was very helpful for us, especially the strategic plan. The project may look like it hasn’t been going anywhere, but DREAM was meant to be a start for -, a way to get them moving, not the final solution to every problem.

“We’re going a little slower than we like, but we’re getting there.”

Downtown in Focus

Upcoming stories will include:

Oct. 20:  A look at the work of Downtown Business Boosters, a new organization that is hoping to help shape changes to the downtown area.

Oct 27:  A follow up on collapsed downtown buildings and the progress being made in cleaning up the debris.

Nov 3:  A look at how parking issues effect the growth of downtown businesses and what changes, if any, can be made to help alleviate what some see as a major issue hampering development

Nov. 10:  An update on the status of the Trust building and what plans, if any, are on the horizon for the iconic buidling.

Nov. 17: A look at some downtown success stories, examining businesses that have had success/staying power in downtown area.  

Nov. 24:  A broad analysis of the downtown strategic plan, a 2010 blueprint that highlighted eight goals for improving the downtown area

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