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Old 06-03-2014, 12:16 AM
30 posts, read 49,385 times
Reputation: 37


In 2013, I took over as director for Poteau Main Street. My job is to revitalize the downtown area, however, there's not a lot of funding to do so. We've made tremendous progress over the last year and I thought I'd share some of the things that we've been doing. It may help out other towns that are a limited budget with ideas and such.

This is how the downtown area looked a year ago:

Poteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-8077115025_7169632a30_b.jpg

Pretty bleak. This was taken on a Saturday; a day where downtown should have been alive with people. I see this in a lot of small towns across Oklahoma, and it doesn't have to be this way.

Each town has a unique history that can be used for revitalization. It just takes a bit of digging to find.

We learned that Bonnie and Clyde robbed a bank downtown. In fact, this was one of their last hugely successful robberies of their career. Why wasn't this mentioned in the history books?

The first thing we did was to start to highlight this history. It gets people excited; gives them a reason to be proud of their downtown.

We asked a local film company to come downtown to film a reenactment of the robbery:

Poteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-6.jpg

Over 600 people showed up to participate. That helped spread the word; then we started promoting more of our history around town, which further excited people. This really helped get people motivated to do more downtown, however, it had been neglected for so long that nobody knew where to start.

The easiest and most cost effective thing to do is paint. So, we painted:

Poteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-945617_4539278215094_387957390_n.jpgPoteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-1234657_4907677864855_411258799_n.jpg

Once people saw that we were doing things then they started donating. It was a little at a time, but the more people got involved, the more got done:

Poteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-944732_4451132171498_527159766_n.jpgPoteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-1392829_470870213028074_688827530_n.jpg

Business owners saw this and got on board as well:

Poteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-993604_4623081790131_1875709190_n.jpg Poteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-mooneyham.jpg

It's been just over a year now and we're still going strong. Everything that we've done has been low cost and spread out over time. A lot of people try to go in to things by asking the big businesses for donations, or by asking for grants - that is great, but big businesses give out so much already and grant funding is at an all time low. More than that, neither one of those things is sustainable.

Instead, we've asked the individual for help. We've gone out door-to-door in many cases and asked for $5 here and there; it all adds up. If you get 50 people to donate just $10, that gives plenty of money for paint and supplies. Once people see the change, they're more willing to donate.

Beautification has a huge impact on business. People don't want to shop in a dirty, run down downtown. They want to feel comfortable, they want to feel like they're someplace special. By cleaning up our downtowns then we can help preserve their history as well as generate positive economic growth.

So where are we today? There's still a lot to be done, but these photos show how far we've come in just one year:

Poteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-10155966_10201049055063624_1426700741_n.jpgPoteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-859296_10201227393601976_5855019832073106087_o.jpgPoteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-10010662_10201244792956949_1669519662093979532_o.jpgPoteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-10333368_10201328847698265_7513294291123345874_o.jpgPoteau, Oklahoma; Photos and Tips on Revitalization-10333310_10201328851658364_4251831240362517630_o.jpg

Today, we only have three vacant buildings left downtown. On any given Saturday, you can find people out walking the streets and shopping our stores. There are now four restaurants downtown, a large gaming center, one of the biggest museums outside of Ft. Smith, and a whole slew of unique stores.

This week, the city is installing new stop signs. These are the old-fashioned ornate ones that mimic those seen in the 1920's. After that, they're going to work on the sidewalks, and finally the main street.

We have also learned a lot about the history of the town. During the early days, it was an outlaw haven; people such as Belle Starr, the James Gang, and the Younger Gang frequented Poteau. Later, we had Bonnie and Clyde and "Pretty Boy" Floyd. There was also the Oklahoma Immigration Company, the old Indian Territory courthouse, and two railroad depots. It's a fascinating little town, and one that many people don't know about it's rich history.

We are still painting, still cleaning, and still doing all that we can to make our downtown beautiful. We have plans to get all of the old "ghost signs" repainted, we're working on adding trees downtown, we're even helping people get their stores merchandised. This all began with an idea, a desire to make something done, and a lot of hard work.

The bottom line is this: Any town can do this. It takes desire and a group of motivated people who can do the work. A can of paint doesn't cost that much, but it goes a long way. Just keeping the weeds trimmed does wonders. It doesn't take a lot of money, but it does take time. If you keep working at it then you will make a difference. A little progress is still better than no progress.

Last edited by Oklahoma_Traveler; 06-03-2014 at 12:43 AM..
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Old 06-03-2014, 06:27 AM
Location: USA
7,778 posts, read 10,977,571 times
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Very interesting post. Thank you for taking the time to write it.
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Old 06-03-2014, 06:51 AM
Location: Oklahoma
11,753 posts, read 8,391,650 times
Reputation: 10585
That is wonderful!!!!!! I have always thought Poteau was THE most underperforming town in the state given it's potential.

I actually moved there in the 1990s when they were going to put in a rails to trails system in Poteau. How wonderful
I thought, it would be to jog or rollerblade through the heart of Poteau on the rail trail. As it turned out, it was just a boondoggle for the Holtons and that bunch to get their hands on that land. There was no interest on anybodies part for a fitness trail.

Myself and others advocated hard for the trail to go through town but to no avail. We used to joke though that it was probably good because we couldn't fund the number of ashtrays that would be needed along the trail to keep it clean.

They did have a hootenanny thing downtown then that was popular.

I never heard about the Bonnie and Clyde thing.

What you are doing is wonderful and sorely needed for a town which could be a tourist town in our state. Thank you.
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Old 06-03-2014, 11:50 AM
Location: Where deer are milk cows and hoot owls are chickens and near where Big Foot is occasionally seen.
104 posts, read 361,321 times
Reputation: 151
Thank you for sharing this. It should be an inspiration for other communities that need an "uplifting". The only suggestion I would like to make is that the parking on both sides of the street by big dually 3/4 ton trucks is a real problem to traffic flow, particularly during the noon hour. You might want to consider alternate blocks, one-side parking or restricted parking by vehicle size on main. Nice job with what you are doing.
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Old 06-03-2014, 03:41 PM
Location: SW OK (AZ Native)
20,071 posts, read 8,999,192 times
Reputation: 8585
Good to hear... a couple inlaws live in Poteau, near Carl Albert, and haven't said anything about it. Has this been featured on Discover Oklahoma or the electric coop news-magazines? Talking up every town is important if its going to be more than a Love's off the interstate.
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Old 06-03-2014, 03:58 PM
30 posts, read 49,385 times
Reputation: 37
Eddie, I've heard of that before, but I moved here after all that was proposed. Downtown really wouldn't be a safe place to do that though, especially with 3,500 cars driving down the road every day. But, I've been helping with the new Rotary Outdoor Complex. This is a several acre lot that was formerly owned by the girl scouts that they're turning in to a huge recreation area. They're building a large pirate ship in the center, then adding several miles worth of running and hiking trails. They're also adding the workout centers along the trails for people to do stretches and such.

There's been a lot of progress in Poteau just in the last three years; we have a new library, a convention center, and a professional class skatepark. Having grown up in big cities all my life, I thought the same thing - there's a lot of potential here! There's a lot of younger people here now that are pushing to see that progress and I think that's had a huge impact.

As I mentioned, this is something that every town can do. It just takes a group of dedicated people to see it through.
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Old 06-03-2014, 04:02 PM
30 posts, read 49,385 times
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Talisman, we've solved that problem as well. The solution is actually pretty simple. By increasing the parking angle to 26 degrees, we add another six feet of roadway. We lose five parking places for each block but it'll make it a lot safer to travel. That takes in to account the length of the large trucks as well. There's a total of 512 parking places downtown but nobody parks in those lots because they're falling apart. Once we get those blacktopped then we can add in "additional parking" signs to help direct people.
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Old 06-03-2014, 04:12 PM
30 posts, read 49,385 times
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Sluggo, we've been featured in several different places. Discover Oklahoma came out and did a series on Warehouse Willy's, the Historic Downtown Walking Tour (which won a RedBud Award, btw!), the Museum, and on our progress. Andrew McCrea on American Countryside did several interviews with us for his national podcast. We were also featured on America Unearthed because of the number of runestones that we have in the museum. Several other TV and radio personalities have came through town and done interviews about different things. I agree, if you don't promote then nobody will know you're even there to begin with.

That's what I mean though; most of these people have found us through websites and different articles that we've put out there. We really haven't spent anything on it other than time, but it pays off in a big way. Every town can do this; list your places on different websites, write articles, do anything you can to get your name out there.
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Old 06-03-2014, 07:26 PM
Location: Stillwater, Oklahoma
22,657 posts, read 16,047,439 times
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Downtown Stillwater became better in the face of two Wal-Marts and strip malls by becoming a Business Improvement District. But that meant business property owners had to pay a tax.
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Old 06-04-2014, 08:39 AM
641 posts, read 894,236 times
Reputation: 864
I am always impressed with how bustling and even prosperous Poteau seems. It is a very pleasant little city.
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