Best Cities Do Not Let Downtowns Fade Into History

December 24, 2013 6:00 am

The best cities support all their neighborhoods, from the original downtown center to the newer shopping malls on the fringe of town. Sometimes as retail establishments and restaurants spill to the edge of the city limits, the lights in downtown grow dimmer. Some cities abandon the “old” part of town, leaving it to become an eyesore and a lost economic opportunity.

Downtown 4St. Joseph citizens and employees refuse to let their downtown disintegrate into history. Rather, they have rallied to help it rise again and have created long-range plans to continue its revitalization. New restaurants, retail establishments and entertainment venues have welcomed the community back to the heart of St. Joseph.

Where some cities see the trend of their shops and restaurants moving out into newer parts of town, the best cities see new shops polish up the beautiful wood and brick of the old downtown and re-open doors that may have once been closed. A wonderful reversal is happening in St. Joseph. Some restaurants that were located along the bustling Belt Highway are moving away from that area and back into the blooming downtown. Restaurants like the Ground Round and 36th Street Food & Drink have moved downtown, and Gyro Paradise has recently opened a second location between Bliss Salon and Foster’s Martini and Wine Bar.

Throughout the warmer months, music fills the downtown streets every weekend. The best cities invite all ages to their downtown, and free music events like the Sounds of Summer concert series in Coleman Hawkins Park invite young and old to bring out a lawn chair, mingle with friends and share some blues, jazz, country or rock with their community neighbors. While crowds return downtown each year to enjoy the Coleman Hawkins Blues Festival, other musical events like the Irish Fest and JoeStock keep the notes in downtown flowing and varied.

A large part of the success for the renewed interest in the downtown is credited to the Better Block of St. Joe. For two days each year, Better Block creates a downtown scene that offers a vision of what St. Joseph could very likely achieve as a vibrant, thriving shopping and entertainment area. The Better Block, a group of dedicated volunteers, invites vendors to temporarily set up their merchandise in empty downtown storefronts and fills walkways with flowers and benches. Some of those vendors decide they’d like to stay and set up shop for good. Over 100 people helped organize and carry out the 2-day Better Block event.

The best cities plan for a better future. Becky Boerkircher, executive director of the St. Joseph Downtown Partnership, says that the last 10 years have seen an encouraging amount of growth in St. Joseph’s downtown. But more is to come. Updates to the Civic Arena and Missouri Theater, and a possible move of the casino downtown will enhance entertainment. A grocery store and pharmacy could help loft apartment dwellers shop a little closer to home. With support from local business partners and volunteers, St. Joseph’s downtown will not fade into history.

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