Warrenton revitalization to start with public town hall

By Adam Rollins, Record Staff Writer
Posted 7/3/19

Longtime residents of Warrenton know that the city’s historical downtown area is not as busy as it used to be. There’s less foot traffic in the evenings, and several storefronts remain …

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Warrenton revitalization to start with public town hall

Longtime residents of Warrenton know that the city’s historical downtown area is not as busy as it used to be. There’s less foot traffic in the evenings, and several storefronts remain persistently empty.A collection of local business owners are aiming to turn that slump around and are taking what they say are the first steps to revitalize Warrenton’s Main Street.The Warrenton Downtown Association (WDA) will host a public town hall-style meeting to gather input from area residents about what they want to see in a renewed downtown district. The town hall is Monday, March 11, at 6 p.m. in the Warrenton High School commons area.WDA Vice President Stacey Blondin, who co-owns Main Street Real Estate in downtown Warrenton, said the public input will help direct the sorts of new businesses WDA will try to attract.“What do they want to see, what are their interests,” are the types of questions for participants, Blondin said, with a particular focus on “mom and pop” shops that could be a good fit for downtown.Helping lead the meeting will be staff from Missouri Main Street Connection, an organization that has assisted with similar revitalization projects in other Missouri cities. The organization was brought on board by the business owners of the WDA who want to see life return to this area of Warrenton, Blondin said.“We want to see people living here and walking the streets here ... it really is just for the betterment of the whole community,” said Blondin, who is a lifelong Warrenton resident. The way it used to be, she said, “You could spend your whole evening down here being entertained. There was usually music outside somewhere, and even just walking up the street, you’d see somebody you know. It was a little destination spot.”Main Street ConnectionThe Warrenton Downtown Association is participating in the Missouri Main Street Connection program thanks to a grant offered by that organization and a cost share paid by the city of Warrenton. Warrenton’s Board of Aldermen approved a $9,600 payment for the program in July 2018.Main Street Connection provides training and guidance for economic development programs that incorporates the historical assets of Missouri’s downtown districts. The organization said in October its goal is to help develop a sustainable, volunteer-based revitalization effort.Main Street Connection State Director Gayla Roten commented that the organization “is very excited to work with the entire community of Warrenton to revitalize their historic downtown and make it a community center once again.”The training and mentorship offered by Main Street Connection spans a two year time period. The organization said it previously has served 178 Missouri communities.Blondin said other downtown districts that have partnered with Missouri Main Street Connection, including in Washington, have seen transformations over the course of five or more years.WDA’s current plan is to organize more events and festivals downtown to make that area a center of activity. Then, using the methods WDA members are learning now, Blondin hopes they can turn that attention into a marketing tool to draw in new entrepreneurs and fill the available storefronts.Fruhling Fest returningThe next big event in downtown Warrenton is Fruhling Fest, the revival of a German-themed festival that turned out crowds in decades past. Fruhling Fest is a celebration of German heritage in Warrenton, Blondin said.“My grandma brought me when I was a kid. There were crafters, there was food, there were activities for kids,” Blondin recalled. “You’d get this real sense of community when you’d come down Main Street and you would see all this stuff going on.”The festival is scheduled for June 15. There will be food (including German food), vendors and activities for children. Blondin said the festival will be similar to the Market Day event hosted downtown in 2018, but WDA hopes the Fruhling Fest to be bigger and have more available.

Deerfield’s on Main, seen at right, is one of the most recent additions to businesses in downtown Warrenton. At the far left is the one-time location of Brewskies restaurant and beer garden. Local business owners are trying to bring in more entrepreneurs to revitalize the downtown area.

Record photo