Hannibal, Mo's downtown is all about MarkTwain. There are about half a dozen buildings that are the Mark Twain museum. Just about everything else is named to tie into Mark Twain. They've done a very good job of retaining the historic character of the downtown--the old department store is a great example of reuse--it is now a museum. Bu the place is dead. When I arrived last night at about 5:30, the only places that were open were the coffee place and the dinette. The next morning from 9 AM to 11 AM, it was still pretty dead. Checking the open hours signs, it was clear they aere not open on Friday night either.
Cape Girardeau's downtown was buzzing on Friday when I got there at 6 PM. Even now (about 10 PM, it has a lot of activity. (OK, I admit it is a Friday night--but it has places people would go to on Friday night). Only seem to have one or two vacant store fronts. The coffee shop I'm in has had a steady stream of people (In Hannibal last night, while there were people who hung out in the coffee shop, there was little traffic.)
So, why the difference?
- Cape Girardeau has a major college (but a lot of the people downtown are NOT college students)
- Cape Girardeau has a larger population than Hannibal but is much smaller than the Quad Cities.
- All three cities/towns do have major development along a freeway a few miles away from downtown so that isn't an issue.
- All three have done a very good job of retaining the historic downtown commercial buildings from the early 20th century so that isn't an issue either.
- All three have a new riverfront park. Cape Girardeau's is half a block from downtown but is really just a concrete walkway on the river side of a 11 foot concrete flood wall. It doesn't seem to have much traffic.
- Maybe it is art. In one block there were three art galleries. Maybe Tom Borrup is right about art being an economic development engine http://www.communityandculture.com/.
My daughter pointed out the obvious. Cape Giaradeau's downtown appeals to locals and tourists, not just tourists. The developments that were to draw people to downtown Moline and Hannibal only appeal to tourists. A downtown can not just rely on people from out of town. (My experience tonight in Memphis confirms this. While Memphis downtown does draw tourists, it draws many more locals.)