Land in downtown Rolla is being unearthed at two locations to make way for more parking – and, hopefully, a more accessible downtown area.
The improvements are being made possible through a $296,760 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awarded to the City of Rolla by the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED).
Rolla Mayor William Jenks III calls the project a "huge step forward" for downtown revitalization efforts.
"Parking has always been an issue in downtown Rolla," Jenks said. "Through the assistance of MRPC (Meramec Regional Planning Commission) and the CDBG grant, we've been able to lessen the problem and hopefully improve commerce in that area."
MRPC assisted in preparing the grant application and serves as the project administrator.
The $440,756 project will redevelop two vacant, unused and blighted lots into landscaped public parking areas. The new lots will be located at the intersection of Sixth and Elm streets and the intersection of 10 and Rolla streets.
Construction on both lots has begun, and Jenks said it is exciting to see progress on the project, which has been in the works for two years after the need was identified two years prior to that.
Action items for community revitalization had been identified in the 2009 downtown plan for the Rolla downtown and arts district.
Lack of sufficient parking had been noted as a factor hindering downtown business district development. Business owners, downtown residents, shoppers and Missouri University of Science and Technology students often compete for available parking.
Unused and vacant areas had been flagged in the plan as detracting from the downtown's aesthetics and negatively impacting the image of the downtown district.
The City of Rolla and the Rolla Downtown Business Association (RDBA) identified the lots, which are in the southern and northwestern portions of the business district.
The two lots will add 167 paved parking spaces.
"We are thrilled to death to have this. It is something we have been waiting on for a long time. Parking has been quite the issue," Rolla Downtown Business Association President Lonna Sowers said.
The RDBA is a 501(c)6 not-for-profit organization, comprised of business owners, property owners, neighboring districts and residents with the common goal of seeking improvements for the downtown area. The RDBA evaluates and plans to address current and future needs in economic development for the downtown area.
Sowers explained the additional parking will connect the downtown businesses with the university, as well as connect businesses to the arts and entertainment district.
The public parking areas will not only alleviate parking needs for business, but also for the increased downtown residency, which has resulted from new housing developments, Sowers said.
"This parking area will be huge in helping our residents as well as the people who come to shop," Sowers said.
Page 2 of 2 - Rolla Public Works Director Steve Hargis hopes to have both lots completed by September.
The Missouri DED CDBG program offers grants to small Missouri communities to improve local facilities, address critical health and safety concerns and develop a greater capacity for growth.
It offers funds for water and sewer projects, industrial infrastructure and community facilities like fire stations. CDBG is a "pass through" funding program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). For more information about CDBG grant opportunities in the Meramec region, call Kelly Sink-Blair at 573-265-2993.