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Blog: The heart of downtown never stopped beating (02/04/22)

I had some memorable conversations during the tumultuous 2014-2018 era of Poplar Bluff town government.

One, in particular, struck me this week, as I started my morning to the sound of jackhammers smashing through a bank drive-thru.

It was with a member of the city council at the time, during the contentious debate over the location of a new city hall.

Many locations outside the city center were offered. Whenever the subject returned to the council, which was then meeting in the dank, leaky old compound on Second Street, the room was full of disgruntled citizens. They have always been, and I believe ever since have been, ready to fight to retain their municipal seat in the historic downtown core.

Not all council members – or one former fired city manager in particular – appreciated the coverage we gave these meetings or the tough questions we asked about proposed new locations.

More than one person in a position of responsibility has accused me of stalling important and necessary progress when I reported on the Northwest Medical Center inspection. The Barron Road facility was considered a replacement urban complex in 2017.

Among a long list of maintenance needs, the Northwest inspector noted that the basement — the police department’s planned new home — was flooding several times a year due to problems on a neighboring property. The city pulled out of contract talks soon after the inspection report was published, even though some in official positions said the newspaper should never have published the information.

(In fact, I have two items in my office from 2017. One is a plaque from former Mayor Ed DeGaris acknowledging my “fair and honest ‘a member of the same board because of my “biased, rag journalism”, vowing never to speak to me again. I’m proud of both, as they’re both the result of tough questions, even at a time when some found it easier to say nothing.)

More than one proponent of “anywhere else,” anxious for “progress,” has told me that downtown Poplar Bluff is dead. He had been dead for decades, nothing had ever changed here and nothing ever would.

My response to that comment has always been, “It can definitely get worse, and if we never start, we’ll never accomplish anything.”

Former City Councilman Ed DeGaris had another thought on the matter. The city is the largest downtown landowner, he said. If it cannot do better, how can it ask its citizens to do better?

Change may have seemed slow in coming to Downtown, but its heart still beat.

It was kept alive by people like Myrtle’s owners Greg and Letha Hays and the Roaches, who never stopped trying to bring their town home.

It was bolstered by the owners of Haffy’s, Foxtrot, Bronze Owl, Southern Care and Comfort and others, who came because of unrealized potential.

It will thrive again thanks to the new blood, Poplar Bluff School District, Morgans, Hensons and others who are now driving those building sounds. The city will soon add its own jackhammers as it takes care of the long doomed downtown parking lot.

I can’t really say the sound of the jackhammer makes phone interviews or other work any easier, but I’ve had to deal with the occasional train whistle over the past 15 years, so I guess I’ll m ‘get out.

After all, it’s all in the name of progress.

Donna Farley is the editor of the Daily American Republic. She can be contacted at dfarley.dar@gmail.com.