Back in its heyday, Harrisonville’s historic town square was a vibrant hub for business and entertainment in the town of 10,000.
But when big box retailers started building their stores near Missouri 291 in the late 1990s, community interest in the Harrisonville Square started to wane.
“For a lot of cities, big stores out by the highway have become their main street,” said Happy Welch, Harrisonville’s city administrator. “But nobody really identifies with that like they do a historic downtown.”
That’s why four years ago, Welch and a handful of other concerned citizens started Love the Harrisonville Square, a nonprofit with the mission “to return the Harrisonville Square to its rightful place as the heart of Harrisonville.”
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This month, the nonprofit received one of four grants given out each year by the Missouri Main Street Connection to become an affiliate. Affiliate cities receive training, mentoring and technical services to revitalize their historic downtown districts.
The organization implements programs like this in cities across the state, aiming to restore and revive historic downtown business districts over a two-year time frame. Success stories include Lee’s Summit and Cape Girardeau, both now known for their exciting downtown districts.
Love the Harrisonville Square collaborated with the city of Harrisonville on the grant application, which requires affiliate cities to match 40 percent cash funding for their revitalization initiatives. The MMSC grant covers the other 60 percent of the cost. Harrisonville’s grant is valued at $24,000.
Welch said that the affiliate grant will help Love the Harrisonville Square achieve some of its long-term goals, including bringing local retailers to the district and therefore maintaining some of the foot traffic there.
“We want to see how we can get people to visit those areas instead of just stumbling through them,” he said. “We’ve got the infrastructure, beautiful brick streets and lots of history to make this a viable downtown again.”
Welch began attending one-day MMSC training seminars around Missouri after he saw the success of the program in other cities.
“I saw it as an opportunity to do the same for our city,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is a group that’s really in line with what we want to be, and they’ve got the approach we need to get there.’ ”
Welch’s attendance at these seminars earned Harrisonville extra points on the graded application, said Gayla Roten, MMSC’s state director.
Harrisonville “showed that they had the need for revitalization, but also that they had the grassroots effort to carry out a revitalization plan,” she said. “They had the background information to hit the ground running and begin working with the program.”