Can Rogersville be more than a bedroom community for Springfield?
A group of citizens thinks so, and a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Heritage Post in downtown Rogersville brought them together to discuss what the city could be.
The meeting was facilitated by Rogersville Alderwoman Marjorie Gelz, who was forthright with about four dozen participants who had assembled.
“When I look at Rogersville, we have a comprehensive plan, but it’s kind of vanilla,” she said.
There is no land-use or commercial plan, and that’s starting to be a critical problem, as people move to the city.
“Since we’re on the forefront of growth, we can plan this,” Gelz said.
Rogersville has some unique problems. Its older downtown doesn’t have a central square, and its newer developments near U.S. 60 intersects are, ironically enough, hard to get to.
“We’re just close enough to Springfield that it’s very easy for us to be a bedroom community,” Gelz explained. She added, “We need to start investing in the actual city part — get people to shop in town because that’s what helps our businesses.”
According to Gelz, the city has a lot of potential. “We are a diamond in the rough. We need to pull people off the highway and get them to shop here,” she said.
The problem is that there is no workable plan for the city, according to Gelz. “Strategy is what Rogersville is lacking,” she said.
One audience member, Lauren Brooke, a real estate agent with ReeceNichols, spoke up to offer what she considered to be the biggest need in the city: a sit-down restaurant.
“I’d love a sit-down, family-style restaurant that serves breakfast,” she said. “We’ve got to give people some options.”
Gelz described Rogersville as a Class 4 city, similar to Republic, Nixa, and Ozark — all of which have higher populations than Rogersville. “Even Marshfield has a greater population,” Gelz said. There are hundreds of other Missouri Class 4 cities, which are those with populations between 500 and 2,999.
There seemed to be consensus at the meeting U.S. 60 is a problem. While it brings people through Rogersville, an effort to make it a limited-access freeway has resulted in a challenge drawing them in. Most businesses are below the eyeline of the overpasses, and long access roads serve as a barrier to passengers. It’s hard to describe how to get to many Rogersville businesses as a result.
Gelz gave the example of the local Chinese restaurant, Sky Dragon. “How do you tell someone how to get there?” she asked. She added, “Because we’ve been so small, we’ve been hodge-podging it together. We’ve created a disaster.”
She noted that the people of Rogersville need to figure out what they eat and where they want to put it.
Some who were present bemoaned the failure of the city to grasp on to previous opportunities, like an effort to build athletic fields near the current high school. Rogersville residents go to other towns for sports competitions, and those towns get the revenue that Rogersville misses out on.
One optimistic person in the audience, a minister, noted that the meeting was a very good first step, bringing something he called the awareness factor. “Once a group of people becomes aware of a need and starts to work on it together, it’s amazing what they can accomplish,” he said. “I’ve been praying for diversity to come together in unity, but the foundation has to be laid.”
A major question that was raised was what kind of town Rogersville wants to be — large or small. One woman in the crowd spoke up to say, “I think we have to be OK with not being a small town, but grow into a city with character. Change can be scary, but change can be good.”
Another person clarified, saying, “We want to stay small, but we want a lot to do here.”
The problem is that having a lot to do requires a tax base, and it seems difficult to maintain a small size while providing a lot of options. The general consensus was that most young people see no reason to stick around Rogersville when they’re of age to move on, and in fact, according to some parents who were present, most young people are pretty bored right now.
In an interview after the meeting, Brian Van Fosson, senior vice president of Citizens Bank of Rogersville, conceded that the city faces a number of obstacles.
“We need to bring outside capital and development to the community,” he explained. “We’re starving for goods and services, and we need to find a way to motivate people to come to our city.”
Although The Marshfield Mail is a county newspaper, Rogersville City Administrator Larry Sutton fixed upon the name. “You’re lucky you’re far enough away from Springfield,” he said. “The road is a plus, but it’s also a minus.”
The meeting was just the start of a long process of growth-planning. Community members will gather again toward the end of January to continue moving toward a plan.