A meeting Thursday night in Rockaway Beach marks the start of the Main Street Affiliate Project. The town, along Lake Taneycomo northeast of Branson, is the recipient of a Downtown Revitalization Grant from Missouri Main Street Connection, Inc. The grant totals $25,000 with MMSC providing 60 percent and Rockaway Beach 40 percent.
During the next two years, the organization will provide Rockaway Beach with training and mentoring to establish a revitalization organization.
Jim Harriger is director of White River Community Development, which applied for the grant. According to Harriger, his organization was approached by a Rockaway Beach alderman and local businessman last year about being the sponsor for the Missouri Main Street Affiliate program. Missouri Main Street Connection, Inc. works on economic revitalization of downtown areas across the state of Missouri. It uses education tools of the Main Street Four-Point Approach to Revitalization, developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Main Street Program. In October, Harriger said, they found out they were chosen to receive the grant.
The money will come back into the city, according to Harriger, as technical advice. The town hall meeting tonight at 6:30 at the Community Center, 2762 State Highway 176 in Rockaway Beach, is part of that.
"The town hall meeting tonight is designed to bring citizens, property owners, business owners and government representatives together to look at 'what can we be?'" he said. "We won't be what we were, but we can be more than we are, and that's what makes it exciting."
According to Harriger, Missouri Main Street Connection has access to contacts for other revitalization grants cities might apply for to help move them forward.
He said the town hall meeting will offer information about Missouri Main Street and its approach to economic revitalization.
"They've heard all the negatives: 'you can't do it here,'" he said. "They've heard all, 'we're not that other city. We are special.' They've heard all the excuses before, and they smile and say, 'let's get to work.'"
People will be able to share their ideas for revitalizing Rockaway Beach, which used to be a thriving tourist town, during tonight's meeting.
The damming of the White River to create Table Rock Lake in the 1950's caused the water at Rockaway Beach to turn cold, and while it’s great for fishing, the tourism industry there took a major hit.
The information gathered tonight, Harriger said, will be used by the Rockaway Beach Main Street Committee to start work on “things that can be done immediately.”
According to a news release sent out by White River Community Development, "with support from Missouri Main Street Connection, the Rockaway Beach Main Street Committee anticipates utilizing the tourism industry in Taney County to bring visitors to Rockaway Beach; developing the lakefront downtown district for entertainment and shopping and gathering community input on the district in order to create a downtown all citizens are proud of."
Harriger wants the city to celebrate its past while moving forward. Rockaway Beach has a rich history with resorts still standing that date back to the early 1920's. He'd like government to work effectively. "We've made headway on that as we've elected a new mayor in April, and we have seen things working there," he said.
He'd like to see businesses open up downtown in storefront space that's available. A new ice cream parlor opened recently. Another new offering: Christmas Island, which offers visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, lighted trees reflected in the water, hot chocolate, coffee and cookies or s'mores around a campfire on an island in Lake Taneycomo in Rockaway Beach.
"People are excited that maybe we could, just maybe as a community, we could make things happen that would change the past. That would allow us to look forward and have things in the community that people can get excited about again," said Harriger.
The town has some of the best fishing in the area on Lake Taneycomo, according to Harriger. He said one of the resorts, Rainbow Haven, is active even in the colder months with people staying there to fish. Being close to Branson, he said, is another positive.
"It's a wonderful place to stay, here in Rockaway Beach," he said. "You're only 15 minutes away from the shows, and this is certainly a slower pace than being on Route 76 in Branson."
He loves the town. "You can sit here on my deck and look out over this beautiful lake and the hillside, see the colors change on the trees, the eagles flying over, the herons on the lake. And it's a quiet, peaceful town that is fun to be in," he said.
The Christmas Island event has attracted interest from people saying 'what's going on?' according to Harriger. That's the beginning, he said. He's not yet sure how soon anything else will happen.
"It'll really depend on the excitement of the people, the ideas that come out of the meeting tonight and how we can put them into effect," he said.