Okmulgee among winners of Great American Main Street Award

Tuesday, April 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKMULGEE, Okla. (AP) _ Revitalization efforts since the 1980s have yielded a big dividend for residents of this northeast Oklahoma town.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced Monday that Okmulgee is one of five winners of the Great American Main Street Awards, which are given to communities for their commercial district revitalization efforts.

It was the fourth time in four years that Oklahoma has a Great American Main Street Award winner. Cedar Falls, Iowa; La Crosse, Wis.; Milford, N.H.; and Staunton, Va., share this year's honor.

The awards were presented Monday at National Town Meeting 2002, the annual conference of the Trust's Main Street Center.

``Against overwhelming odds, people joined together to breathe new life into these communities and make them more successful than ever,'' said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust. ``We are proud to honor these communities with our Great American Main Street Awards and congratulate the towns leaders for their commitment to revitalizing their commercial districts.''

Kendall Mooney, project director of Okmulgee Main Street Inc., said the project that sparked Okmulgee's redevelopment was the renovation of the Creek Council House.

The Creek Nation conducted its governmental business there after it was built in the late 1870s. Residents raised $1 million to restore the building in the late 1980s and have been making improvements since.

``It just speaks to the pioneer spirit of our community,'' Mooney said. ``It's kind of that can-do spirit.''

Okmulgee began its Main Street program in 1986 when the town was struggling economically with the closure of the Phillips refinery and a couple of glass plants. A series of downtown fires only worsened the situation.

Under the Main Street program, the owners of the M&D Star Drug removed the facade of its old building, revealing the original, historic appearance. Reinvestment from the private sector has reached $15 million.

Okmulgee also has 85 percent occupancy in lower-level retail space, compared to 40 percent before, Mooney said.

A panel of 10 experts in community revitalization, economic development and historic preservation chose the five winners. The towns will receive $2,500 to further revitalization efforts, road signs, a certificate of achievement and a plaque.

Other Oklahoma communities that have won include Cordell in 1999; Newkirk in 2000 and Enid last year.

The National Main Street Center was established by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1980. It is made up of more than 1,500 volunteer-driven, business district revitalization programs nationwide.