MAIN STREET RUSSELLVILLE~ Heart of the City~

September 1, 2011 | By More

Written by Dianne Edwards

Main Street Russellville, while often confused with ‘Main Street Mission’, is on a mission of its own – “to revitalize and develop the downtown area of Russellville as a business and governmental center as well as a cultural center for the River Valley.”

Poignant words, but exactly what do they mean? By bringing together community members who care and are willing to work diligently to develop a vital and growing economy, members of Main Street Russellville combine those efforts while improving the appearance and purpose of Historic Downtown Russellville.

A body does not function without its heart and Downtown Russellville serves as the ‘heart of the city’ and has since Russellville was incorporated as a city on June 7, 1870. In fact, the first business to be established in the town was owned by Mr. Shinn, who later built a masonry structure to replace his wooden store in 1875. Known as the Shinn Building – which houses Italian Gardens Restaurant – still exists today.

Even then, the area was central to the lives of early settlers as the Shinn Building was constructed at heart of the intersection of an east-west road from Little Rock to Fort Smith and a north-south buffalo trail to a ford on the Arkansas River. Russellville’s oldest commercial structure benefited from a successful rehabilitation project and shed new light on the potential for adaptive reuse of historic structures in 1995. In 1996, Gov. Mike Huckabee presented a Main Street Arkansas “Special Recognition in Economic Restructuring” Award to Shinn Building owners Mike and Joy Miller. The Shinn Project and countless others have been collaborations of the efforts of Main Street Russellville.

In 1992, Gov. Bill Clinton designated Russellville as an ‘official’ Main Street City.

An open house signified the official opening of the Main Street Russellville (MSR) office in the Worthen Bank building with Angela Halverson (Woker) serving as the first MSR program manager.

Beginning with MSR’s inception in 1992, options for funding became available. The first Mini-Grant Program awarding two $1,000 matching fund grants were awarded. Antiquated parking meter posts removed from downtown sidewalks and any street signs were replaced in downtown area.

A flagpole island at the intersection of West Main and Arkansas Avenue was landscaped, creating an attractive entrance to the Downtown area. This island is still maintained by long-time dedicated volunteer Mary Cahoon. In 1995, a water source as acquired at the Flag Pole Island for ease of maintenance.

The MSR’s first-ever Downtown Fall Festival and Chili Cookoff took place in 1992, followed by a “Taste of the Valley,” the first fundraising tasting party which premiered at the Hughes Community Center in 1993. The event later won the Arkansas Festival Association’s ALFIE Award for Best New Festival of 1994 and many subsequent awards recognizing its continued success.

MSR relocated to 100 N. Denver, the historic building which once housed Russellville’s first hospital. Betsy McGuire, who continues to serve as Program Director for Main Street Russellville, was hired in 1993.

The years that followed saw a $4,000 matching funds Model Business Grant for Lefler’s Fashions at 103 N. Commerce. J Thacker Shoes was approved for $4,200 matching funds Model Business Grant (’94.) A $15,000 matching funds Model Business Grants for Hall Studio was issued in 1995. Another on behalf of The Frame Shop for rehabilitation of the Hamilton Building at 203 W. C was issued in’96. (For a complete list of all grants and awards, visit the MSR page at mainstreetrussellville.org.)

In 1994, two male Gingko trees were planted at City Hall and existing trash receptacles were cleaned and painted. A County Courthouse Restoration Grant in the amount of $5,000 for the Pope County Courthouse was received.

The word of MSR’s success spread. The image was enhanced as mugs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, aprons and caps bearing the MSR iconic logo were distributed beginning in 1994.

Accolades are numerous, too many to accurately mention but among them, in 1994, Russellville received the first of many Main Street Arkansas awards for Special Achievement in Organization for Membership and Fundraising.

The first in a series of limited edition Community Christmas Ornaments featuring the 1931 Pope County Courthouse was introduced in 1994. New ornaments, offering historic buildings within the downtown district, have been offered each year since.

As early as 1994, Main Street Russellville hosted a day-long series of meetings at the Russellville area Chamber of Commerce to develop recommendations for Streetscape Improvement Plans. By 1995, the University of Arkansas’ Community Design Center agreed to work with MSR and the community to develop a Master Plan for Downtown Public Improvements. Phase I of a Master Plan for Downtown Development was presented in 1996.

In 1996, Russellville’s Historic Downtown Commercial District, consisting of 60 buildings, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Through a partnership with Main Street Russellville, the City of Russellville acquired the old post office building/federal building from the General Services Administration in 1996. A Downtown Revitalization Grant enabled MSR to present a $3,500 check to the City for exterior restoration of the Old Post Office/Federal Building in 1997.

A committee dedicated to the preservation and redevelopment of Russellville’s historic Missouri-Pacific railroad depot was created in 1996. “Friends of the Depot” was formed. A special children’s t-shirt proclaiming “Clikkety Clak…bring the Depot back!” brought special attention to the FOD project.

In 1998 Gov. Mike Huckabee and staff met with volunteers to generate awareness and support for the project. Later that year, the Union Pacific Foundation approved a grant in the amount of $1,500 to MSR. The Friends of the Depot continued to work toward the city’s acquisition of the historic Missouri-Pacific railroad depot in 1998. The city council approved a contract with Union Pacific in November.

In 1999, a successful bid of $1,500 at statewide auction yielded the Hope, Ark., Caboose for the Depot Project. In 2000, the City Council approved use of funds from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) and proceeded with the Depot Project.

Burris Memorial Plaza was dedicated as a memorial tribute to the six members of the River Valley that lost their lives in the airline tragedy in Little Rock on June 1, 1999.

“Strike the Spike” groundbreaking of the Depot Project was held in 2002. Reunion ‘Round the Rails” celebrated the rededication and public opening of the Depot in May 2004.

In 2006, the Depot Project Capital Campaign received a Main Street Arkansas Award for Best Creative Fundraising Effort. First Friday Downtown Art Walk was named Best Special Event by Main Street Arkansas.

Phase IV of the Depot Project (completed in 2007 due to the availability of our TEA funds) at a cost to Main Street Russellville of $62,258. The funding for this phase was provided by a $5,000 DTR Competitive Grant in addition to Friends of the Depot fundraisers that included Rummage ‘Round the Rails, the Fall Fest Omelet Breakfast, and the ongoing sale of engraved brick pavers.

Phase III was completed at a cost of $64,483 and included the sidewalk, curb and gutter and bollards to create a pedestrian friendly multi-use plaza at the entry to the Depot. Main Street Russellville provided funding in the amount $16,283.60.

Russellville appointed a nine-member Historic District Commission and approved a local ordinance protecting Russellville’s Downtown Historic District in 2008.

In 2009, City Resolution No. 1114 authorized the development of a Downtown Master Plan through Main Street Russellville. The efforts of this committee continue. Further studies, such as one recently completed by The Walker Collaborative, will be presented in future articles.

Main Street Russellville provides several incentive programs to encourage downtown revitalization and improvements in the designated Main Street District. The district, designated in 1992, is defined as bordered by Parkway on the north, Third Street on the south, Boston Avenue on the east, and El Paso Avenue on the west.

For additional information on various grants and projects which are high visibility, high impact, long term projects that benefit the greatest number of people call MSR at (479) 967-1437.

A Downtown association of business and property owners and residents gather to promote the “heart of the city” on a regular basis. Main Street committees and members of the Master Plan Committee work continually to enhance Historic Downtown Russellville and propel it to economic vitality.

Eight individuals have served as president of the Main Street Russellville program since its inception in 1992. They have included: Toni Laws, ’92-94; Jan Shaw, ‘95’ Joyce Larkin, ’96’ Peggy Talkington, ’97-2003; Richard Ruble, ’04; Jim Coutts, ’05-’06; Linda Carnahan, ’07-08; and Dick Goodman, ’09-’11. John Harris, current vice president of the MSR executive board, will serve as president beginning in 2012. Eighteen board members and three Ex-Officio members, as well as the two- member MSR staff, meet a minimum of once a month as a board to stay abreast of current situations involving the Main Street Russellville program.

It is impossible to tell the story of Main Street Russellville within the confines of a few pages. Visit mainstreetrussellville.org for additional information.

 

 

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