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Main Street committee begins downtown makeover

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By The Staff

As construction crews get into the meat of a year-long project to enhance Vandalia’s downtown business district, a group of Vandalia Main Street volunteers has begun its contribution to dressing out the downtown.

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Members of the Main Street’s design committee were among the volunteer painters working on two downtown businesses on Saturday, May 23.

The committee headed up by Steve Barker kicked off its “Paint the Town” project that day by painting the exteriors of Higgins’ Dry Cleaners and Clymer TV & Appliances.

Barker and other committee members chose to take on the project after learning at the Illinois Main Street convention how Main Street volunteers in Princeton, Ky., dressed up their business district.

“In three years time there, they painted 50 buildings,” Barker said. “When we went to visit, we saw what kind of impact they had on the downtown.”

Not only did the volunteers improve the looks of Princeton’s downtown, they helped fill a lot of empty buildings.

“They had 14 empty buildings downtown, and when we visited, they were down to just two, and one of those was in escrow,” Barker said.

Barker was joined on the outing to Princeton by fellow committee members Bret Brosman, Rich Jenner, Brian Kinney and Marilyn Truitt.

In addition to seeing how the businesses were given a facelift, design committee members learned how Main Street workers in that community partnered with business owners to make the project a success.

“We hope to have that kind of impact here in Vandalia, and I think we’re off to a great start,” he said.

“I think what will happen is that as people see what we’re doing and how much it can improve the looks of our downtown, we’ll get more people involved,” Barker said.

Based on the May 22 work day, more volunteer help will certainly be welcomed.

Committee members Barker, Jenner, Kevin Budny and Kinney were joined by Main Street Program Manager Dana Whiteman, Artie Langston and Kinney’s daughter, art student Meg Kinney.

“It was about a 10-hour day, and we hit it hard all day,” Barker said.

“As we continue to paint other buildings, it would be good to have more people on board,” he said. “It would be nice to have some people scraping and others concentrating on painting.

“We’ll welcome anybody that wants to help, whether they can give 15 minutes, an hour, two hours or a full day,” Barker said. Those wishing to volunteer can contact Whiteman at the Main Street office, 283-8751.

In the near future, the design committee will be meeting both to assess the work done on May 22 and to make plans for a future work day, when the exteriors of Gathe’s Tax and Accounting Service in the 300 block of West Gallatin Street and the building that formerly housed Celebrations Party Supplies and Jane Isbell Jewelry in the 400 block of Gallatin Street will be painted.

The design committee uses color schemes that have been developed by architects with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

“The work needed varies from building to building,” Barker said. “While he had to apply just two colors at Clymer’s, we used six colors at Higgins’, where there was a lot more detail work involved.

“Everybody, myself included, is really proud of what we accomplished in one day, and we’re excited about what all can be done in the future.

“We really feel that this project can have a big impact on our downtown and our community,” Barker said.

Through the project, building owners are required to provide a 50/50 match on the expenses and also to participate in the work.

The design committee got a boost from Kaskaskia Supply & Rental. The business agreed to a 50/50 match on Main Street paint purchases, with a starting point of 25 gallons.

The committee also has received to date $500 donations from First National Bank and Andy Lester Construction.

“We’ve spent about $250 to get started, and that includes brushes, rollers and other painting equipment that can be used over and over,” Barker said.

The committee also plans to hold fundraisers to generate the monies needed to keep the project going. The first of those will be the sale of decorated bricks.

Barker said bricks that are being removed from Gallatin Street as part of the downtown enhancement project are being turned over to local artists, including Truitt and Lynn Reznick.

The artists will paint buildings and monuments, including the Vandalia Statehouse and Madonna of the Trail statue, on those bricks.