Finishing touches on the Historic Downtown Liberty Square are still to come, but city leaders and shop owners are already celebrating the completion of a $5 million facelift to the nearly 200-year-old city-center. They held a ribbon cutting and an afternoon of family games to encourage people to come enjoy the area’s new look.
Orange cones and detours have been up on the Liberty Square for nearly a year. The project caused closures and the relocation and cancellation of downtown events in order to bring the first major facelift to the square in 30 years.
The $5 million renovation project, which was funded through an economic development sales tax passed in 2014, brings new streetscaping and parking areas, as well as wider sidewalks, plantings and benches to improve the walkability of the area. Much of the project, however, focused on subterranean infrastructure fixes.
The city fixed water and sewer lines and added storm drains, something that had never before been installed in the historic area. Construction ran into delays with gas lines and other unexpected problems in modernizing the area underneath the historic buildings around the square. Many of the buildings were built in the 1800s. Liberty Mayor Lyndell Brenton says their goal was to try to do what they could to see the area beautified and preserved as long as possible.
“The downtown is the heart of the city,” Brenton said. “It has been here for almost two centuries. It has been passed down from generation to generation, and it’s been a couple of generations since we’ve really made a significant investment in the square. So, it’s really important that we do that so we can pass it on to the generations yet to come.”
Vickie Vance, executive director for Historic Downtown Liberty Inc., says merchants around the square are glad to see the long process coming to an end.
“We are beyond excited to see the end in sight on this,” Vance said. “We knew it needed to happen. We just didn’t have any idea how long it was going to take. We are thankful to all the customers who found their way downtown around the construction.”
The square currently has 26 retail shops and 12 eateries, as well as a variety of service industries. Vance reports that even though business was down, none of the merchants had to close up shop because of the construction, and a couple of new businesses opened.
Shawn Garland, owner of The Artisan Market on Main Street, took a space that had never been used for retail and turned it into a small art gallery. She had to delay the opening of her businesses three months due to the long construction project, but says she is glad for the street-side upgrades.
“I can’t wait to see the finishing touches,” Garland said. “I think that’s going to make a really big difference. The parking on this street is much better than it had been, because we got angle parking on the street.”
Ralph Brant, whose family has owned Brant’s Clothing on the square for nearly 100 years, says the square is about community. From his perspective, the renovation, and its increased appeal for walkability gives people more reason to simply be on the square. Brant believes that is a good thing.
“We have a center of energy and community on the square. What’s exciting about the downtown is that there will be people here at all times of day, even past midnight, just walking around or enjoying what we have.”
The Historic Downtown Liberty Inc. sponsors regular public events throughout the year, including a weekly Saturday morning farmers market and a cruise night for historic cars on the last Saturday night of each month.