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MU Extension helps Missouri cities revitalize


Kent Faddis
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-5361

Photos available for this release:

MU Extension specialist Jeff Barber and Chuck Surface, economic development director for Webb City, go over concept drawings for the city's downtown.

Credit: Steve Morse

Concept drawing of an open-air festival and gathering place in downtown Webb City.

Concept drawing of an outdoor cafe in Webb City.

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008

Story source:

Jeff Barber, 417-881-8909

WEBB CITY, Mo. - Once they had been vibrant places to do business, shop, eat and socialize. Today, many downtowns in Missouri are almost forgotten. Economic development plans to revitalize downtowns are often too expensive for communities already strapped for resources, but several Missouri towns are getting outside help to develop a blueprint of what their downtown could look like over the next 25 years.

University of Missouri Extension specialists and 10 architecture students from Drury University recently developed a long-range community vision for the town of Webb City in southwest Missouri.

"What this does is take something that would normally be pie-in-the-sky and puts it into a blueprint form," said architect Jeff Barber, MU Extension housing and environmental design specialist.

Barber said a study of this magnitude would normally cost $100,000, but his group was able to complete the study for less than $5,000 using MU Extension resources and the architecture students.

Webb City was once a thriving mining town with a population of 28,000. The legendary Route 66 passed through Webb City. Today, the mines are long gone and Route 66 is no longer a functioning highway. The town's current population is around 11,000.

Barber's group gave community and city leaders concepts of what their downtown could look like in the future. Designs included pocket parks, an outdoor area for festivals and other gatherings, and a Route 66 visitors center. The students described their concepts as creating an "urban village."

"The folks in the community could see what the study was talking about and they could visualize it," said Chuck Surface, economic development director for Webb City. "Tourism is wonderful on Route 66, but we got to get folks to stop in our town because that is tourism dollars to us."

The study allows for a 20- to 25-year timeline to tackle the projects. But John Biggs, mayor of Webb City, said many of these projects can be accomplished in the next 10 to 15 years.

"The downtown is the face of the community, and when someone from the outside looks at the downtown, rightly or wrongly, we are judged by the way the downtown looks," Biggs said.

Barber's group showed city and community leaders in Webb City how to obtain funding for some of the projects.

"One way we help these communities is to help them understand community-development finance so that they might be able to create facade-improvement programs and also to understand the tax incentives that are out there," Barber said.

MU Extension is also working with nearby communities in Lamar and Greenfield on similar economic plans. Over the past year, six communities have received help in planning for economic and community development.