FULTON — A hundred years ago it was Montgomery-Bell Dry Goods. In September, it will become a coffee and wine bar in downtown Fulton. The layers upon layers of carpet and vinyl tile will be gone, and the original wood floors and pressed-tin ceiling will be preserved.
“Before I can ask other owners to fix up their buildings, I figured I should do so myself,” owner Garry Vaught said.
Vaught owns Cornerstone Antiques and the Picket Fence, as well as the former dry goods building. Vaught also chairs the Fulton Downtown Revitalization Committee that started two years ago.
“Fulton has historical feel and charm with antique shops and brick streets,” Vaught said.
In three months, business owners in downtown Fulton will learn if their properties will be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With national designation, 57 out of 69 commercial buildings downtown would qualify for tax credits, said Nancy Lewis, executive director of the Callaway County Chamber of Commerce. The tax credits would be used to restore and maintain the historic buildings.
“The main goal is to keep the building owners to keep their buildings looking good, and of course get more business in the downtown,” Lewis said.
The buildings awaiting historic status make up what is known as the Historic Downtown Fulton District. To be eligible for the national registry, buildings must be at least 50 years old and the exterior should not be dramatically changed.
“We didn’t want our downtown to be like that of other towns, where the downtown dilapidates,” Vaught said. “If we fix up our buildings, better retail might come in. It’s a revitalization — cleaning up and determining our direction.”
The downtown location can be beneficial for some businesses. Ron’s Deli moved into the downtown district a month ago from another part of town.
“The customers all think the move is for the better,” owner Ron Oliver said. “They can all walk and don’t have to drive anymore.”
Fulton is establishing five historic districts as part of the city’s master plan. The downtown district is the only commercial district; the other four are residential.
The city’s Historical Preservation Commission rewrote the local ordinance to make it easier for residents to participate, said Sheliah Bishop, the commission president.
In the last week of May, the City Council awarded 21 homeowners plaques that identified their properties as historic homes.
Members of the preservation commission and the Chamber of Commerce have met with their counterparts in other towns attempting similar revitalization efforts. The downtown of Lexington in west-central Missouri is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It was a mutual learning experience,” said Jan Simon, executive director of the Lexington Economic Development Council. “We showed them how we utilize the downtown we’ve created.”
Before the national register confirms the Fulton designation, the town is focusing on developing infrastructure for the downtown district, including burying utility lines and other amenities in keeping with the historic character.
“We’ve determined that if we start and get something accomplished, people can see we’ve done something,” Lewis said.
New banners sponsored by local businesses will be put up on the streetlights. Vaught hopes that downtown businesses will be willing to pay for additional beautification efforts.
“We want to preserve what we have and not lose any more,” Lewis said. “We have worked to keep the downtown strong. That has been an effort here for a lot of years. We have a strong downtown, and we don’t want to lose that.”