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Marketing Heritage and Cultural Tourism Grant Community Highlight: Cape Girardeau

February 28, 2023

Missouri Main Street Connection Inc. (MMSC) partnered with the Missouri Humanities Council and the National Endowment for Humanities through ARPA in awarding $5,000 grants to 12 communities selected through a competitive process to fund projects focused on strengthening heritage and cultural tourism in rural Missouri. The grant helped each community implement a project and market itself to prospective visitors. These heritage tourism projects gave added value to the economies in each community through a range of projects from murals to walking tours to new monuments and building plaques that all highlight each respective community’s history for residents and visitors. One of the Marketing Heritage and Cultural Tourism grants was awarded to Old Town Cape in March of 2022 with the project being completed in October of 2022.

Old Town Cape is the Main Street organization for Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  Cape Girardeau sits on the Mississippi River that is integrally connected to its history and identity as local historian, Dr. Frank Nickell posed, “Cape Girardeau is once again becoming OF the river,” which now appears on the back of Cape Girardeau’s new gateway monument. Old Town Cape staff concurred by saying, “The Mississippi River is arguably the biggest draw to Downtown Cape Girardeau.” Many of Missouri’s river towns and cities along the unruly Mississippi River have not taken full advantage of it so this struggle is not unique to Cape Girardeau.

Now after years in the making, through many different proposals and the collaboration of several different stakeholder entities and individuals, Old Town Cape has moved forward on their strategic plan initiative to have a gateway for downtown installed. The structure serves as a gateway to the river for its community and improves downtown.

Old Town Cape Gateway Signage

The new gateway structure that was installed is in the northwest corner of the intersection of the main throughfares of Broadway and Main Street. The gateway is three-sided monolith structure that is over 20 feet tall with a black granite base and an eagle sitting atop. Local artist Don Greenwood designed the gateway so visitors heading to the river will read “Mississippi River” and as riverboat tourists enter Old Town Cape by way of the river they will read “Cape Girardeau”. The lettering is backlit by LED lights that Old Town Cape can change the color of to reflect the season or enhance the ambience of Downtown Cape. On the back of the gateway is a history written by local historian, Dr. Frank Nickell, which provides tourists and locals alike with a fuller picture of Cape Girardeau’s relationship to the Mississippi River. Finally, the gateway will be surrounded by a circular concrete planter ten-foot in diameter to protect the base of the structure and to provide further beautification with seasonal plantings.

As you can see, this is a massive project which exceeded the $5,000 Marketing Heritage and Cultural Tourism grant, yet it is because of Old Town Cape’s strategic focus and work with local stakeholders that this project was funded through a diverse mix of donations, partners, sponsors, and grants. Each part of the funding demonstrates the oversight needed to implement major downtown revitalization projects successfully from working with Cape Girardeau’s Special Business District for a majority of the cost to the Downtown Cape Community Improvement District for the beautification portion of the gateway including the concrete planter and its plantings to Missouri Main Street Connection as the project catalyst with grant funding and the tools to better tell the story of Old Town Cape included in this project and how they marketed it.

Old Cape Town Groundbreaking

After a year of coordination with vendors, contractors, the City, partners, and other stakeholders, the gateway marker for the Mississippi River is now installed and ready for visitors to check out the newest landmark that holds the history of Cape Girardeau and its connection to the river. The Old Town Cape staff hope and predict that “the gateway will grow to be a local landmark on par with the Clock Tower, River Tales Mural, and the Mississippi River itself.”

Cape Girardeau Sign

Missouri Main Street Connection awarded the Marketing Heritage & Cultural Tourism Grants in partnership with the Missouri Humanities Council and the National Endowment for Humanities through the American Rescue Plan Act.