City leaders from both the public and private sectors are welcoming the new life that seems to have been breathed into the downtown corridor in recent years, and they hope the excitement continues into the future.
Tahlequah Main Street Association Director Drew Haley said the downtown corridor typically is considered to include College, Muskogee and Water avenues, between Chickasaw and Goingsnake streets.
“We have a really good start, with some really unique shops,” said Haley. “We need more of that going on down towards NSU and down on the south end.”
Haley and Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols both recognize the need for more restaurants in the downtown area. Haley said restaurants bring visitors to the corridor, and those visitors often stop at other businesses.
As of his most recent count, 17 buildings downtown are vacant, with seven up for sale and one empty building awaiting a pending sale, Haley said.
“Most of the vacant buildings are on Muskogee,” said Haley.
But five new businesses have opened doors in downtown Tahlequah in the last three months. Many of the proprietors acknowledge they were directly or indirectly drawn to the area because of various festivals and events, such as last winter’s ice-skating rink, or the art and music venues spread throughout the year.
“Events are just awesome, and they are the life of the downtown area,” said Haley.
He hopes the newest festival – OKsWagen Fest – will bring a new experience to downtown Tahlequah and welcome visitors from several states. The festival is set for Oct. 20, and will highlight Volkswagens with an auto show, poker run, kids projects, and “beer, brats and polka” throughout the day.
The same day, in the same downtown area, Tahlequah City Hospital will be hosting a breast-cancer-awareness street party, and Movies in the Park at Norris Park will show a triple Halloween feature. Plus, the Farmers’ Market will begin the morning at Norris, and NSU will host its home football tailgate party.
As more and more festivals find homes along Muskogee Avenue in the downtown area, city leaders recognize the need to put some attention on the exterior buildings throughout the area.
“As far as facade work, there’s a need for that. I’ve always wanted to set up a grant,” said Haley. “Maybe we could set aside $10,000 a year and have that available for people to come and maybe we’d match part of their renovation, but we just don’t have the funds right now.”
He said grants aren’t typically available to for-profit entities, and even those available to nonprofits, government entities and tribal organizations tend to lean toward equipment or planning needs rather than bricks-and-mortar necessities.
Haley said TMSA’s leaders recognize the need for several entities to be involved in the downtown corridor’s expansion and renovation.
Nichols said the city is on board.
“Everybody wants new business growth, and we’ve noticed wherever we make a public investment, private investment tends to follow,” said Nichols. “Through the downtown work, we hope private, free enterprise takes its natural course. I think here in the next few months, people are going to start seeing very tangible, noticeable differences in the downtown area.”
If all goes as planned, Nichols said construction of a water splash pad could begin soon, and he hopes it’ll be up and running for at least part of the 2013 summer.
The city is close to finalizing a lease with the Cherokee Nation for use of land southeast of Norris Park, at the corner of Water and Downing where a car wash once operated. Nichols said if that lease is secured, the splash pad will be built there.
Pedestrian improvements – including installation of bike racks and trash cans, and improvements to cross walks – are also in the plans.
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