The gateway arch to Historic Downtown Sedalia was completed just a few weeks ago and I’ve been hearing mostly negative reactions. But I’m going to be honest with you: I like it. It looks great lit up and it’s great we can control the colors to honor various holidays, organizations and achievements.
One of the top responses is the money spent to build this arch could be better spent elsewhere, but that’s really not true. The funding for this project came mostly from various grants – it wasn’t just general money that could be used for anything. It had to be used for this project because this project was the only reason we had access to that funding. Yeah, they did use a little city money, but when there’s an opportunity to get state or federal money back into Sedalia we should definitely take it.
There’s a popular belief that we shouldn’t do anything to downtown Sedalia until we’ve made sure every single historic structure isn’t going to collapse. In past columns I’ve expressed similar sentiments. There was a time not too long ago where it seemed like the whole district was going to fall down. We need to preserve as many of the buildings as we can at this point, and hopefully fill their street level entrances with unique businesses.
But even if the city had an infinite number of dollars they couldn’t just swoop in and fix downtown Sedalia – most of the structures in serious disrepair are privately owned. Many are used as glorified storage lockers and allowed to deteriorate by people with large real estate holdings from all over the country. To us, they are the buildings that allow Historic Downtown Sedalia to remain historic, but to them they are nothing more than an entry in a portfolio.
I do think there should be some sort of municipal process for seizing historic downtown structures from those who are either incapable or unwilling to maintain them properly. I know that’s a tricky prospect and we’d have to work a while to make sure the wording is just right in order to prevent government overreach. Maybe we need a Historic Downtown Sedalia Reinvigoration Zone, where slumlords and absentee owners need not apply.
We’ve already got a system like that, to a certain degree: absentee owners are bombarded with bureaucracy and the associated fines that come with that bureaucracy. The fines, taxes and mail pile up until they hit that legal line that says they owe so much money to the government it can seize the building and sell it to the highest bidder.
But this is a process that takes a long time and is largely toothless until the end. Maybe we need to speed it up a little for buildings in the historic zone. And then there’s the problem of structures that look fine enough on the outside to not attract bureaucracy but are deteriorating on the inside.
There are even those who are saying the gateway is too gaudy, but you know, I think they didn’t go far enough. The whole point of a project like this is to draw in tourists and locals who wouldn’t otherwise step foot downtown. I think we should have done something really crazy that would have made the people show up just to see the spectacle.
Imagine a giant drive-through piano, or entering downtown Sedalia between the outstretched legs of a giant Scott Joplin. Maybe we could have made it look like a cowboy throwing his lasso, or an entire train on an arch-shaped track. Maybe instead of plain concrete supports we should have found a facade that matched the brickwork of the Calvary Episcopal Church. It would fit in a little better that way.
Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.