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Award winning Cordell program escapes cutback

Updated:
CORDELL, Okla. (AP) -- Cordell's award-winning Main Street
Program came close to what the program director called a
"sudden-death mode" until the mayor's tie-breaking vote broke a
deadlock on the City Council.

Controversy over funding of the Main Street Program began when
it was excluded from the proposed general-fund budget submitted to
the council by City Administrator Fred Smith.

Mayor Phil Kliewer said he believes the omission from the budget
was an oversight on Smith's part, and that Smith is a believer in
the program.

"I think it's symbolic for the state and national program that
small communities will hang in there after a few years and continue
to fund the program, even though sometimes it's a struggle,"
Kliewer said Friday, following the Thursday night special session
vote.

More than $5 million has been reinvested into property and
businesses in the six years the Main Street Program has been in
effect in Cordell, said program manager Melinda Lingle.

One of the recent projects Main Street was instrumental in
coordinating was the renovation and conversion of the 1906-vintage
hospital that had been closed since 1951, to a building with 20
apartments. The Main Street Program worked on finding funding for
the project and worked with developers and the state's Historic
Preservation office to ensure the historical integrity of the
project.

"That brought people back downtown," Kliewer said.

Kliewer said despite the controversy over the funding of the
Main Street Program, the council had been unanimous on their
support of other progress issues. Ironically, the Main Street
Program has been instrumental in many of those projects.

The mayor said he expects the renovation of the Washita Theater
that has been closed for 15 years to be the next outstanding
project coordinated by the program. Rehabilitation of the theater
which was built in 1946 is estimated to cost around $750,000 and
will begin about Oct. 1. Completion is planned for May of next
year, just in time for a high school reunion.

"That's a big-time community project," Kliewer said.

The council recently voted unanimously to fund the balance of
the renovation efforts for the theater after grant money and other
partnership funds are accounted for.

Other projects in the works include finding occupants for vacant
spaces above downtown businesses. Kliewer sees it as an opportunity
to bring more residents downtown.

Cordell, a town of 2,900, has contributed $20,000 annually to
the Main Street Program's approximate $50,000 budget. Other funding
sources include merchants, citizens and private organizations.

"All you have to do with the Main Street Program is to think
back 10, 15 years ago and think about our town then," said
Councilman Randy Jones, who voted in favor of the funding. "And
it's easy to forget that now that we're enjoying the fruits of that
success. But sometimes when you cut that rope to something that has
served this community so well, everything can unravel.

Cordell received national attention for its Main Street Program,
winning the Great American Main Street Award from the National
Trust for Historic Preservation five months ago.

Kliewer said as far as awards, the city is pretty much at the
pinnacle. But he said there was always more that can be done.

"There's always that inner challenge that we have among our own
volunteers," Kliewer said. "We can always challenge ourselves to
greater heights by our own standards."

Main Street board member Beverly Ball pointed out the program's
goal was to privately raise at least half of its estimated $50,000
annual budget.

She spoke of Cordell's strong volunteer force and a recent phone
call to Ms. Lingle.

"We had one lady phone Melinda and say she didn't have any
money to donate, but that she made quilts," Ball said. "She told
Melinda to come down and pick out the one she wanted, and we could
sell it. ... That's what the Main Street Program means to the
people of Cordell."
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