December 08, 2009

Meeting set to discuss Cairo revitalization ideas

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Ideas for revitalizing the historic riverfront community of Cairo have been in the works for more than three years courtesy of collaborative efforts involving Southern Illinois University Carbondale School of Architecture students and community members. A public presentation of the newly updated proposals is happening this week and everyone is welcome.

The event is at 3 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce office, 220 Eighth St., just east of the Gem Theater. Fourth-year architecture students studying urban design, along with doctoral health education student Shanell McGoy, will present their updated proposals pertaining to four critical facets of the Cairo community: recentralizing the schools and community activities, downtown revitalization and a marina, revitalized residential areas, and a senior assisted living district.

The ongoing effort began in 2006 with previous SIUC Cairo Urban Studio class students working with community organizations and individual citizens of Cairo. Since preliminary presentations on Nov. 20, students revised their proposals to incorporate various ideas, concerns and interests expressed by Cairo officials and residents. Over the last 10-12 weeks, students met with medical, housing, school and other groups as well as individual citizens representing a variety of interests and concerns to ensure the concepts reflect of the needs and goals of the community as a whole.

There’s interest in recentralizing the schools and community activities and in studying several options for a central location rather than schooling in the industrial/railroad zone at the north edge of town. A proposal suggests restoring the original junior high school building at the corner of 25th and Martin Luther King streets as a “demonstration” project of energy efficiency, moving junior high students back to the centrally located building, and developing the entire open block for community recreation.

Possibilities the students will suggest include a year-round indoor swimming facility, adult educational facilities, and even programs and continuing education classes through Shawnee Community College and/or SIUC. One student is preparing grant paperwork seeking funding for development along the city’s west edge of an 18-hole championship golf course with a focus on a Tiger Woods “First 5” youth golf program.

Proposals for the downtown and marina revitalization focus on the core downtown and riverfront area, capitalizing on the significant historic structures still remaining. Those include the Gem Theater, the armory, the “Famous” block, downtown churches and parks, the riverfront, and buildings including the “Transit,” “Board of Trade” and “Levee” structures. Ideas include establishing a public use pleasure/fishing boat marina between the downtown area and the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Suggestions for rehabilitated, new and multi-story housing to replace the 1930s era public housing projects while providing homes for more people and centralizing services in three neighborhoods within walking distance of essential services will air at Friday’s meeting. In addition, those attending will hear proposals to adapt and reuse what remains of the Southern Medical Center facility as an assisted living facility within a park setting and with plans for a new physical therapy and seniors service center, a modern nursing facility and an outdoor fitness and recreational park all centrally located and adjacent to the proposed championship golf course clubhouse.

All interested people and groups are welcome to attend Friday’s presentations and offer their reactions and suggestions, said Robert H. Swenson, associate professor and architect from the School of Architecture.

After Friday’s presentations, you’ll be able to see the ideas on display at the chamber office. Eventually, they will end up with the Cairo Planning Advisory Committee after the city council formally establishes the committee.

For more information, contact Swenson at 618/453-4772 or by e-mail at