Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tampa, Kansas...Tampa PRIDE...Barnard, Kansas...Barnard, Incorporated?

Rural towns that once accepted their decline and eminent death are now fighting to stay alive.  Tampa, Kansas, a rural city of 112 in Marion County, is coming out of that experience with promise.  It is about 30 minutes from a town of 1,000 and an hour from a city more than 10,000.  Does that sound familiar?  Doesn’t it sound like Barnard?

In Tampa, there is a group of citizens that refuse to let their town shrivel up and die.  The town had something to work with; they had an oil company, bank, day care, grain cooperative, and a café.  In 2003, a group of citizens started the Tampa Community Association which later became Tampa PRIDE. 

The organization decided that tearing down old buildings and planting grass wasn’t an option to be considered.  The organization began plans to purchase the old and dilapidated buildings and repair them.  One of the old buildings to be salvaged is the old post office which had a roof ready to collapse.  The plans for that building include a convenience store, barber/beauty shop, conference hall, and retail space.  Other buildings on the list include the old bank building and the former American Legion hall.  These plans are the fruits of the labors of Carole Spohn and David Mueller.

Mr. Mueller says that there is great potential for the downtown.  For the last 30 years there has not been any downtown space available because of the run-down condition of the buildings, but with the renovation/restoration efforts, there will be space.  Tampa PRIDE has no interest in running businesses but providing the space for businesses to use.

Funding for these projects comes from grants.  Monsanto has given a grant of $2,500 and a Small Communities Improvement Program grant has been received. 

Activities that have happened and are scheduled include Christmas home tours, softball tournaments, pancake feeds, community movies.  The city is also planning its 125th Anniversary Celebration in August.

Isn’t this town’s history and past situation eerily familiar?

This is where Barnard, Incorporated comes into play.  Barnard, Incorporated, though still in its formative stages, will be a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the revitalization of Barnard’s historic structures and economy.  Though Barnard, Incorporated has been in the works for quite some time, the birth of this organization has been sped up by the threatened demolition of the historic WPA build Art Deco water tower.

Though Barnard is off the beaten path, tourism can still play a part in Barnard’s economic future.  People already come from all over the United States to see that water tower.  A month ago, two travelers came into Trapper’s in Simpson looking for directions to get to the Barnard water tower.

Another factor that could translate into tourist dollars for Barnard is what I call “Green Acres Syndrome.”  Many people from large cities across the globe flock into the rural Midwest to get a taste of the country life.  Susan Barnes, the owner-operator of the Grand Central Hotel in Cottonwood Falls, has had enormous success catering to this crowd.  The area around Barnard has attracted a seasonal crowd during hunting season but a year-round hospitality industry could be sustained with the proper facilities in place.

Barnard, Incorporated has already done some preliminary works on some projects.  The Executive Director of the United Way in Salina has been met with about funding.  The United Way is currently waiting for Barnard, Incorporated to achieve its non-profit status before making any decisions on any assistance.

Some projects under consideration are a library with meeting rooms and homework assistance, a gym, artists’ lofts, a jamboree, a museum, and if necessary, a village post office.  Barnard, Incorporated is also currently working on a summer movie that will be free to the public.  Barnard, Incorporated has also been working to attract a bed and breakfast operator.  That endeavor has shown some promise.

Barnard has a rich history.  The area around Barnard has at least one farm that is still in the family that originally homesteaded it.  The Wallace family has roots in the area before Barnard’s existence as well as do the Loys.  Tapping into that history and Barnard’s potential can help this community grow and sustain itself for the future.  Having services and business outlets that will encourage people to come and to stay in this community will strengthen its presence in Lincoln County and keep it from becoming another Milo, Saltville, Denmark, Vesper, or Abram.

Information about Tampa, Kansas was obtained from Amy Bickel’s article “Tampa PRIDE Rebuilds” in the Hutchinson News.

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