Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tourism up ahead!

A discussion with Chillicothe’s city administrator about Livable Streets

By Sarah Canavese
City of Chillicothe logo
Courtesy: City of Chillicothe
Imagine walking down the sidewalks of a charming downtown area in Missouri. Around you are the brightly colored awnings of a locally owned businesses, and just up ahead, there’s a group of teenagers going into the ice cream shop. It’s summer, and hot, and now that you think of it, all this walking is making you hungry, too. You should go into the ice cream shop as well, but on your way there, you see a shoe store. It’s August, time for back to school, and your kids could use a new pair.

Can you imagine this scene unfolding? Ike Holland, Chillicothe city administrator can and he is working on creating the perfect place for tourism to bloom. One key to achieving his goal of vibrant tourism is through the Missouri Livable Streets project.

Holland spent eight years working in Colorado, giving him first-hand experience with how a town that thrives on tourism should look. “When I came to Missouri and I saw this Livable Streets program, I was glad because people don’t see the quality of life benefits or the economic benefits, unless they have experienced it. So it was a very easy sell, [it] wasn’t much of a sell for me,” Holland explains.

For Chillicothe, though, before Holland can share the benefits of creating livable streets, he has to generate the interest among residents and stakeholders.

“I know it works,” Holland said of building tourism through livable streets. “You have to take it in stride and understand that we are doing this in stages. I am confident and when it’s complete, each stage gains momentum because people start to understand what is going on. In Colorado, you are so dependent on tourism and we used to say, ‘We will get others to pay for our projects.’ So the tourists, they pay for the highways, the hot springs, the ski resorts. [Communities] don’t realize the people who live there don’t pay for it, it’s the tourism [that does].”

Part of the hesitance communities may experience when considering policies encouraging livable streets often is due to these concerns about cost. “For the street planning that was done 20 or 30 years ago,” said Holland, “the norm was to do away with the sidewalks and reduce cost as much as possible. Crosswalks were minimized to save money. Now we are having to go back and basically redo a lot of these main roads. It’s a shame that sidewalks went out of style.”

Continues Holland, “The funding for streets is provided by the sales tax here in the community and it hasn’t increased over the years, but the cost of materials and labor has. So every year, I get less for my dollar but still have to maintain the streets. It’s a tough choice for communities to make, but the community is behind the projects. We built a new hospital and we are going to include sidewalks as part of the project. We are also implementing some really nice streetlights to go along the sidewalks.”

It should come as no surprise then that any hesitance around passing a policy doesn’t stop Holland from feeling the excitement this project has brought on. “In the bigger scheme of things, yes it [may] cost money. But the bang for the buck is big.”

Holland emphasizes that making the changes now will benefit the community in the long-term. “In about ten to 15 years, 25 percent of the population is going to be over 65 [years old]. One of the things people over 65 like to do is walk. If you have a small or large town that encourages walking, and you can do it in a safe way, you will do it. That’s step one. The second step is tourism. All those things combined are reasons why we are looking at making Chillicothe a very livable community.”

To learn more visit Missouri Livable Streets.

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