El Dorado Springs Revitalization Story

 taken from article written by Linda Greer for Cedar County Republican

Four years ago Jack Tough did not think much about why so many downtown El Dorado Springs buildings were boarded up or used for storage.  The sight had become commonplace.  Tough said Kimball Long, El Dorado Springs Sun newspaper publisher, invited him in early January 2005 to her Main Street office and pointed down the street, saying, “We have to do something about this.”  “About what?” Tough asked her.  “Our downtown is deteriorated — that’s what,” Tough said Long told him as they stood on the empty sidewalk.revital_4    “We have this gorgeous park and new civic center,” Long said. “There was no point in letting the city fall down around us.”  That brief encounter was to be the start of a non-profit organization that secured funds and motivated people to change the face of the city’s historic downtown.  Tough, a real estate agent for many years, said Long was the organizer, but needed a salesman to pitch the rejuvenation plan to residents and to the government agencies and other benefactors who could fund projects.  “We had to sell the idea to the community,” Tough said.  Within weeks after Tough and Long wondered together what to do, ten to twelve others had joined them, forming a non-profit 501c3 group. Long serves as the group's president.  Tough was hired as the group’s economic development director last year. 

Tough suggested the group make road trips to towns that successfully revitalized their downtown areas.  Members
 visited Warsaw, Clinton, Ozark, West Plains, Adrian, Excelsior Springs and Lexington in Missouri and Chanute and Parsons, Kansas.  Each city had revitalized its downtown in five to seven years, Tough said.  Group members then went to business owners and downtown property owners to explain their mission.  Before long, the revitalization group had twenty-six building and business owners who pledged to upgrade their buildings and businesses, totaling $500,000 to $600,000 in proposed improvements.  That figure has since increased to over $1 million.  “It was mind-boggling what happened,” Tough said. “It all happened just by telling people it doesn’t have to be this way.” 

The city received a $400,000 community development block grant and $250,000 Missouri Department of Transportation enhancement grant, applied for by City Manager, Bruce Rogers, to be matched by business owners and city in-kind labor.  While some owners simply replaced awnings, others erected buildings, Tough said, adding each improvement supplemented the whole scheme.  Some money from the block grant will be used to study storm drainage problems.  The downtown revitalization district, which extenrevital_10ds from Hickory and Thompson streets to the south, Jackson to the west, Martin to the north and Kirkpatrick to the east, suddenly had much activity after sitting dormant for decades.  Nineteen commercial properties sold within the district. The community bought into the idea, Tough said.  “We had tons of activity in our downtown area of three blocks by five blocks,” Tough said.  Since the group formed, several shops opened, the historic Opera House Theater reopened after extensive remodeling, two buildings were built and one was torn down.  New businesses include Tangled Perfection beauty shop, Sea Breeze travel agency, Charming and Unique gift shop, Rash Antiques, Dash Floor Covering, Healy PC, American Family Insurance, J.L. Kustoms auto repair, The Phone Booth and Harleman Manufacturing.  The group secured another large grant besides the block grant, and is in the midst of three hefty projects — the Brick and Granite program, Streetlight and Sidewalk program, and a Downtown Parking Lot project.

The Brick and Granite program is designed to generate $196,000, minus about $50,000 in costs, to construct the sidewalks around the park with diamond-shaped bricks and granite stones engraved to honor or memorialize the benefactors. Profits will be used for future community and economic development projects.  “I think it will be a huge attraction,” Tough said. “People will come to El Dorado Springs to see it.”  The City of El Dorado Springs is presently advertising for bids on the revitalization projects and will open the bidding on October 16th with construction to soon follow.  The group received a private donation of $50,000 from a donor who asked the city to name a portion of the new sidewalks in memory of his father. City leaders agreed to name a walkway near the park the Herman W. Jones Walk of Our Friends.  Rogers said the new sidewalks will be on both sides of Main Street from north of the post office to Rabe Furniture at 203 N. Main Street.  Whole or half-block sections of Spring Street and Broadway also will be done.  Once construction begins, the streetlight and sidewalk project will take four to six months to complete (subject to weather), Rogers said.

revital_windowsThe group also was awarded a $40,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to construct a downtown municipal parking lot on Broadway to create space for thirty-nine cars and three handicap-accessible spaces.  The city is participating in the project by providing in-kind labor. The lot will serve as overflow parking for the civic center and downtown businesses. The city will lease the lot from the group and manage it.  “We had no idea the Department of Agriculture would fund a project such as a municipal parking lot,” Tough said.  “But it’s part of rural development.”  Tough said the collective efforts of the board enabled the revitalization group to learn about funding sources and be successful in obtaining grants.  Tough was instrumental in encouraging the city to apply for the enhanced enterprise zone,  design a city web site and start a summer concert series to bring people downtown, Tough said.  “Not many cities have a ten-acre park downtown,” Tough said. “The summer concert series was a way of getting people to come to El Dorado Springs who wouldn’t normally come.”  The group is also forming a higher education committee to combat the problem of young people leaving the community for college and never returning as well as considering projects to promote the industrial park, prairie tourism and workforce development.