The Downtown Strong: Building Resilient Economies Grant is a grant provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) through Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) that continues to impact Missouri communities.
Communities across Missouri run successful farmers’ markets that grow their local economy through entrepreneurial and micro business development as well as business growth resulting in establishing brick-and-mortar locations in downtown storefronts. These farmers’ markets have been growing in popularity over the years and the COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for their growth as people searched for safe environments and ways to support local economies. Downtown farmers’ markets are a source of downtown activity that bring people downtown and provide safe environments for people to shop local while keeping their money in the local economy and supporting local businesses as the downtown businesses reopened. In Missouri Main Street’s network Old Town Cape, Main Street Warrensburg, Downtown Joplin Alliance, Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street, and Historic Downtown Liberty are farmers’ markets run by Accredited Main Street programs.
Toward the end of the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in Missouri, Main Street Warrensburg saw a significant increase in the number of vendors and shoppers at their market. This increased interest in the downtown farmers’ market indicated to them that they had an opportunity to recruit and transition some of the vendors into brick-and-mortar businesses as well as solidify shoppers’ support of downtown. In addition, with all the buzz around the farmers’ market they could now revisit their dream of having a permanent location for their farmers’ market.
The Warrensburg Farmers’ Market has been located in various downtown locations since its inception in 1996. As the market grew, the need for a permanent dedicated space became clear. Warrensburg Main Street, wanting to ensure the market stayed downtown, saw the opportunity to develop a plan through the Downtown Strong Grant. They applied for and received services from the Downtown Strong Grant to develop a master plan that would provide the tools needed to move their vision forward.
Initially, Warrensburg Main Street was considering a partnership with a downtown church and began discussions regarding a long-term lease of property that could serve as a more permanent location for the market. As discussions progressed, it became clear that a partnership with the city was a more sustainable and appropriate solution. A site was located on the west edge of downtown that encompassed existing parking lots and an obscure open space. Their grant consultant, Russ Volmert with FORA Planning, noted that these spaces could be converted into a dynamic, beautiful new public space. He envisioned the space becoming a ‘town commons,’ “a place where the community can thrive in the downtown and a place for the greater Warrensburg community.”
Through discussions with key stakeholders from Warrensburg Main Street and the City, Russ developed project goals and a scope of work. He would provide a site inventory/analysis, a schematic master plan, and preliminary cost estimates. Together, these could be used to generate support and help with future fundraising as well as in grant applications. The plan would create a multi-use space that could provide parking, recreation, event space, and a permanent home for the Downtown Warrensburg Farmers’ Market. More than a mere narrative it would be artistic and beautiful, adding to the aesthetic of Downtown Warrensburg and would attract people even when there is no programmed event scheduled.
Working with FORA Planning meant that both the organization’s eight-year discussion of a downtown public space and a permanent downtown location for their farmers’ market were finally within their grasp.
The services included in this article were prepared by Missouri Main Street Connection, Inc. using Federal funds under award 05-79-06056 from Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.