The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 2, 2013

City creates new position to guide downtown Pittsburg development

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
news@joplinglobe.com

JOPLIN, Mo. — The city of Pittsburg has a new general manager for Memorial Auditorium and a new downtown district coordinator — a new position that officials described as a positive move for the city and the downtown.

Kim Vogel, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said Tuesday that Jeff Wilbert, who has served as the general manager of the auditorium for about six years, has been made downtown district coordinator.

For several years, the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce had funded a similar position, held by Judy Westhoff. She retired earlier this year, and the position was left vacant. It made sense for the city to put the position under the umbrella of the parks department, Vogel said.

“We have three parks downtown — Trail Head Park, Europe Park and Immigrant Park — that we already maintain, and Memorial Auditorium is an anchor downtown,” she said. “We needed a city person within those boundaries who could work with business owners, patrons and citizens.”

Vogel said that because the auditorium, which falls under the direction of her department, is sales tax driven, the department has a vested interest in the development of the downtown. The parks department also gets a portion of money from the state liquor tax, as does the Police Department, that is generated by bars downtown and elsewhere in Pittsburg each year.

“It’s about an $80,000-a-year tax for us,” Vogel said, “and so we’re already deeply involved in the success of our downtown establishments.”

She noted that the parks department also has a leadership role in events that take place downtown, including the annual Little Balkans Days festival and the Big Bang Rockfest.

Wilbert said he will spend the next few weeks getting to know downtown merchants on a more personal level and getting their thoughts as to what’s needed downtown. He also will get involved with a grass-roots group, Downtown Pittsburg, which formed a few months ago.

“I think the downtown has a lot of possibilities,” Wilbert said. “It’s a matter of just organizing and getting everyone on the same page, so to speak, so we all have a focused mission on where we would like to see the downtown go.”

Replacing Wilbert as general manager at Memorial Auditorium is Jason Huffman, who has served as technical director there for 13 years and has been active with Pittsburg Community Theatre and the summertime children’s theater workshop, Junior Starz.

Huffman will continue those roles in addition to serving in the new role.