The Pacific Partnership, the primary sponsor of a state retail development program grant, is counting on the program to help revitalize downtown as more St. Louis Street buildings turn up empty.

The Partnership was notified in December 2016 that Pacific had been selected in the competitive application process to participate in a cost-sharing Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) affiliate grant.

The Chamber of Commerce and city of Pacific joined the partnership in applying for the grant.

The mission of the program is to assist cities in revitalizing historic business districts and old town retail centers.

Stephen Flannery III, Partnership president, said he and other business leaders are pleased that the MMSC grant was awarded to Pacific to help revitalize downtown, but cautioned that it’s not an overnight cure-all.

“Some people tend to think that because Pacific was awarded the MMSC grant that they (officials) will help us,” Flannery said. “But that’s not how this works. They give advice and training, but we are the ‘they’ that has to make it happen.”

Through the years St. Louis Street, once the retail center of the city, has seen a series of businesses come and go. The recent vacancies have been troubling, Flannery said, because it’s the larger buildings that are turning up empty.

Currently, the Pacific Foods, Royal Theater, Bank of America and Birdsong Pharmacy buildings are empty. One of the large resale shops says it will close its doors in the coming months. The Pacific Library will be empty next year when the new library is completed on Rose Lane.

Flannery said in view of the growing number of large buildings in downtown going vacant, he has reached out to Chamber President Greg Myers and City Administrator Steve Roth to step up the MMSC effort.

Flannery said when he, Steve Roth, Tiffany Wilson and Steve Myers visited Jefferson City they were introduced to programs that local government could offer to entice people to develop downtown.

Among those are commercial improvement districts (CIDs), neighborhood improvement districts (NIDs), tax abatements and historic zoning districts.

“All of these things can feed into developing downtown,” Flannery said. “But it takes time to take hold.”

Flannery noted that not only is the Partnership hosting annual events that bring people to downtown, but the Chamber, Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, Boy Scouts and River Walk are each conducting programs that attract visitors.

“If these organizations were to stop, some 30,000 people a year would not come to Pacific,” Flannery said.

This is not the time to lapse into a wait and see attitude, he said.

“As president of the Partnership, I’m excited about 2018,” he added. “We’re evaluating projects to assess what works and what doesn’t to determine what to do in 2018.”

But for the city to take advantage of the visitors that organizations bring into downtown, thriving retail stores are needed to add to the city’s tax base.

Eureka Mayor Kevin Coffeey once remarked that he would love to take Pacific’s St. Louis Street and set it in Downtown Eureka.

“Downtown is beautiful, but there’s a lot more we have to do,” Flannery said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the large plate glass window that was once in the Birdsong building was returned.”

Flannery said a downtown zoning district to assist building owners with regulations on building setbacks, parking requirement and multiple use would be needed for the city to qualify for some tax credits.

The recently adopted comprehensive plan included a downtown zoning district in its original draft, but that district was eliminated at the P & Z level. Commissioners said it’s more practical to have multiple uses in other areas of the city — not just downtown.

Flannery said that makes sense, but does not go far enough.

“I understand their thinking. Multiple-use zoning would probably be useful in some areas of the city, but that is different than a special zoning district for a historic downtown,” he said.

Historic districts face specific physical features that cannot be adapted to new development, he explained. There are no setbacks in front or on the side, no space for parking lots and their original use was a combination of retail and residential.

“We have to work with what is there to make that area come alive again,” Flannery said. “We really need a downtown zoning district.”

MMSC has helped a dozen Missouri cities attract new retail into their historic districts.

“Missouri Main Street is an education process,” Flannery said. “We’re currently working on the structure, bringing people to the table.”