Monday, July 27, 2009

New Arts District to make Rolla a destination

If you haven’t yet seen the renovations and improvements being made to the old Benton Grade School, which is now the home of Benton Square, I encourage you to drive by 400 East 6th Street between Cedar Street and Walnut Street.

The once deteriorating structure that was home to Benton Grade School, is being transformed into a multi-faceted business that will include a restaurant with outdoor dining, a full service salon and spa, flora shop, small boutiques and event space.

The owners and developers of Benton Square, Dan Klinski and Steven Scholz, who own and operate a similar and very successful business in Scottsdale, Arizona, have also purchased several other buildings and structures adjacent to Benton Square. Their ultimate goal and vision is to create a vibrant new arts and entertainment district in Rolla that will incorporate Benton Square, new entertainment, dining and arts venues, and of course the Orval Reeves Gallery and Cedar Street Center, where the well-known Ozark Actors Theatre (OAT) provides outstanding theatre, entertainment and stage performances throughout the year.

The investment being made at the old Benton Grade School is more than apparent by the scores of construction workers, engineers, and builders who are quickly transforming the old school into what will soon be one of Rolla’s unique destinations. The owners anticipate that the project will be completed sometime in November of this year.

The Rolla City Council, at last Monday’s Council meeting (July 20), unanimously approved the request by the owners to amend the Schoolhouse PUD (Planned Unit Development) at 400 East 6th Street. The purpose of the requested amendment to the PUD will permit certain changes, including building elevations, and the landscape plan.

The other structures nearby that were purchased by the owners of Benton Square are also currently being renovated, and will significantly enhance the area. This unique blend of an upscale restaurant, boutiques, arts, entertainment, and the nearby Cedar Street Center, will be a welcome addition to not only this area of Rolla, but an asset that has already generated considerable investment and jobs for our community. I am very excited about this development, the promise of a vibrant new arts and entertainment district, and a new destination that will attract visitors across the state to our community.

In closing, I’d like to remind all of our tennis enthusiasts in town that the Ber Juan Tennis Complex will be closed beginning this Monday, July 27 for resurfacing. The six courts that will be resurfaced are located in Ber Juan Park at the corner of 14th and Holloway Streets. Ken Kwantes, Director of Parks and Recreation, said it should take about 10 days, weather permitting, for the resurfacing of the tennis courts.

The Rolla City Council approved funding for the resurfacing project at the July 6 City Council Meeting. It will cost $14,995 to resurface the six tennis courts, and the City had initially budgeted $40,000 for the project. The funds were budgeted under the Park Land Reserve account, which currently has $137,647. For additional information, please call the Rolla’s Parks and Recreation Department at (573) 341-2386.

The City, together with the Rolla Area Chamber of Commerce, is also hosting the “Movies Under the Stars” and “Music Under the Stars” summer series at the downtown bandshell located at 9th and Oak Streets. The first featured film for Movies Under the Stars is “Twilight,” which will be shown at twilight on Friday, July 31 at 8:45 p.m. Free popcorn will be provided and soda and snow cones will be available for purchase. Be sure to bring a blanket or lawn chair.

Music Under the Stars, also sponsored by Embarq, will feature two great local bands; Beeker Street and Pseudo Blues Band on Friday, Aug. 14 from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Music Under the Stars is also a free event for the whole family. For more information on either of these great events, please contact the Rolla Area Chamber of Commerce at 364-3577 or at

Monday, July 20, 2009

Support for Veterans Memorial Park stronger than ever

It was truly an honor last Tuesday to participate in a signing ceremony at Rolla City Hall to finalize the Memorandum of Understanding with the members of the South Central Regional Veterans Group and other veterans in our community for the new Veterans Memorial Park located on Southview Drive in Rolla.

As a strong supporter of all branches of the military, and a retired Colonel in the Army Reserve, it is encouraging to see the ground swell of support throughout South Central Missouri for Veterans Memorial Park. Both monetary and in-kind donations are coming in, and it is more than apparent that the first phase of the park will be completed sometime in November. The first phase of the park will include three flagpoles with a pentagonal base monument, a park master plan sign and large parking lot, all of which is in the works to be completed by Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11, 2009. Funding for future phases of the park, both monetary and in-kind, is still needed, and individuals and organizations interested in making a donation are encouraged to visit the newly designed Veterans Memorial Park Website at They gave for us, so let’s give for them!

Veterans Memorial Park will pay tribute to all branches of the military and Armed Forces, and will memorialize all those who have sacrificed – and sometimes given the ultimate sacrifice - for the freedoms we as a democratic nation enjoy today. As I stood among the many veterans who were representing the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Phelps For the Fort, Missouri University of Science and Technology R.O.T.C., Disabled American Veterans, and Korean War Veterans Association, it was quite apparent that a unified effort is more than underway for the construction of Phase 1 and the ultimate completion of Veterans Memorial Park.

A very special thank you goes out to the members of the South Central Regional Veterans Group who have worked diligently and tirelessly with City staff in the Parks and Recreation and Public Works Departments to see this park become a reality. From the numerous public meetings and planning workshops that generated input and support from the community, to the creation of the master plan for the park, Veterans Memorial Park has been embraced as a much needed and highly regarded project that is gaining the interest, support and momentum it deserves.

There are very few people in this community who do not have a close relative, friend or neighbor who has served or is currently serving in the U.S. military and fewer still who don’t know personally someone who is a veteran. So I’m confident that Veterans Memorial Park will be a tremendous asset to our community and all of South Central Missouri where veterans and their family members and loved ones can be part of something that fosters unity, pride and respect for the tremendous contributions our veterans and active service members have made and are making to provide us peace, security and freedom.

Monday, July 13, 2009

City completes asphalt sealing project ahead of schedule

Upgrading, maintaining and enhancing the infrastructure of our City continues to be a high priority of the Rolla City Council and many municipalities across the state and nation. So I was pleased to see that the City of Rolla Public Works Department recently completed an asphalt sealing project that included most of the downtown business district, weeks in advance.

The first phase of the project began June 24 and included the microsurfacing of Vichy Road, Vienna Road, Fairburn Road, Williams Road and Houston Road. Recently paved streets include Rolla Street South of Hwy. 72, Main Street, 13th Street, and several streets running east to west in Rolla’s downtown business district, including Oak Street from 7th to 14th Streets, Elm Street from Hwy. 72 to 7th Street and Elm Street from 10th to 14th Streets.

One of the distinct advantages of the microsurfacing procedure that provides an approximate one-quarter-inch-thick pavement resurfacing is that the work can proceed at a much quicker pace than traditional asphalt overlays, which typically apply a minimum one – and one-half-inches of pavement resurfacing. Microsurfacing is also an economical alternative to hot asphalt mix overlays, saving the City and residents thousands that would otherwise be spent for the more expensive procedure.

The project would not have proceeded as rapidly as it did without the efficient work and collaboration by the City’s Public Works Department, Donelson Construction Company and the Rolla Police Department. Gene Stroup, Project Coordinator in the City’s Engineering Division deserves a big thanks for keeping the project ahead of schedule, as well as the members of Donelson Construction Company and the Rolla Police Department who provided traffic control assistance throughout the project. I would also like to thank the residents of Rolla and the Rolla business community, including merchants and business owners, for your patience and understanding during the microsurfacing of the streets. I’m sure you will agree that it was a very worthwhile project that will give a facelift to our downtown district, and some of the outlying streets that needed to be repaved.Another road paving project that is currently underway by the City’s Streets Department is the concrete paving of Ridgeview Road from the intersection of State Highway 63 and Missouri Route 72 to Walker Street. The first section of this project was completed last summer from the intersection to the alley west of Spillman Avenue. The second phase includes the concrete paving from the alley to Walker Street. Crews have been working on this section of Ridgeview Road for the past two weeks, and it should go a long way in enhancing this visible and well traveled corridor of the City.

In closing I’d like to remind the community that the Rolla City Council will be holding a special City Council Workshop this Monday, July 13 at 5:30 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers (located at 901 N. Elm Street) to discuss various components of the Rolla West plan and the topic of a park sales tax. The meeting is open to the public, and everyone in the community is welcomed and encouraged to attend the workshop.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rolla recognized again as top outdoor town in U.S.

The July 4th weekend marks the peak of summer fun for many who take advantage of the vast outdoor recreational and sporting opportunities that abound in and around the Mark Twain National Forest and Meramec Valley Region.

So it was encouraging to see that Rolla was included, for the second year running, in Outdoor Life magazine’s list of top 200 outdoor towns to live in the U.S. for hunting and fishing. Outdoor Life magazine used data to score 200 towns on available sporting opportunities and quality-of-life measures like good homes, schools and jobs. The list appears in the June-July issue and online at

With more trout streams than any other county in the state of Missouri, numerous crystal clear rivers and streams, and an array of hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, and boating opportunities, Phelps County has more than its share of outdoor treasures and scenic beauty.

But it still doesn’t hurt our City’s or Phelps County’s regional or national image from a tourism, quality of life or economic development perspective when we are recognized by a national outdoor magazine as one of only 200 of the top towns in the U.S. for hunting and fishing.

According to a recent online article by Todd Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Outdoor Life, “The towns on this list offer the best of the outdoors as well as decent homes and schools and good-paying jobs. They are truly dream towns for sportsmen,” Smith said.

What makes this recognition all the more significant is that Rolla is often included among other “Best Of” lists. In 2007 the City of Rolla was showcased and featured as one of the country’s most unspoiled places to visit, live and play in the recently published book “101 Best Outdoor” towns by Sarah Tuff and Greg Melville. That same month Rolla was the number 9 top ranked college town in the nation for communities with a population of 19,999 or less by ePodunk College Towns Index, a private company that provides in-depth community profiles on 46,000 communities around the country. In 2008 ranked Rolla No. 2 in the Top 10 Midwest Region and No. 13 among America’s 577 “micropolitan” areas in an “America’s Dreamtown” study. Rolla was also ranked as one of “13 Missouri Boom Towns” by author Jack Schultz. The most well known perhaps, and highly published reference to Rolla as a great place to live is included in Norm Crampton’s “The 100 Best Small Towns in America” – A Nationwide Guide to the Best in Small-Town Living.

Regardless of how you might be spending your Independence Day weekend in Rolla, whether you are enjoying a mouth-watering funnel cake at Lions Club Carnival today, cooling off at SplashZone – Rolla’s outdoor water park (don’t miss Independence Dollar Day today from 12-noon to 4 p.m.), or having a picnic with friends and family members, I hope you have a memorable and safe July 4th weekend. And let’s not forget to keep all of the men and women serving in the Armed Forces throughout the world in our thoughts and prayers as we enjoy our freedoms, family gatherings and celebrations throughout the Fourth!