January 20, 2013

Advocate: Downtown can be saved

Other cities in state have revitalized core

January 20, 2013 By Wendy Burton Phoenix Staff Writer

Muskogee’s downtown area was once the heart of the city, but has seen a decline in the last few decades.

Retail outlets, chain restaurants and entertainment venues have been built farther from the city’s center.

Jonita Mullins, executive director of Downtown Muskogee Inc., says downtown can be re-energized and revitalized.

And since DMI was formed in 2008, there has been progress, she said. Nonetheless, there are empty buildings, decaying buildings, buckling sidewalks and much to be done.

DMI is part of the Main Street Oklahoma program — a program that provides training, resources and assistance for preservation-based commercial district revitalization.

“We’ve seen $20 million invested in downtown since then,” she said. “But there’s still a long way to go. A Main Street program doesn’t produce instant results. But look at how successful Enid’s has been — and they’ve been with the program for 18 years.”

Enid has seen a boom in downtown interest in the last year or so, said Kelly Tompkins, director of Main Street Enid, a business like DMI which works to preserve and revitalize downtown.

“There was a lot of work to save downtown in the 90s, and more recently the city is doing a lot of construction downtown,” Tompkins said. “Private investments since 1994 total about $34 million, not counting the money invested by the city.”

There’s only a handful of empty storefronts in downtown Enid, Tompkins said.

“It’s actually hard to find a place to open a business downtown right now,” she said. “There’s only a handful of empty storefronts. In 2012 alone, 16 businesses moved downtown.”

Enid’s success is based on years of work by the city, community and Main Street Enid, Tompkins said.

Linda Barnett with Oklahoma Main Street at the Department of Commerce said Ardmore is also a good example of a downtown revitalization that has been successful as well.

But that has also taken place over many years.

“Since 1988, they have done a remarkable number of renovations,” Barnett said. “They had this one little area that was neglected, and now it has become their restaurant and entertainment district.”

But for Downtown Muskogee Inc., and the city to be successful in revitalizing downtown, there has to be a tremendous amount of support from the community, the city and private investors, Barnett said.

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