HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hannibal Mayor James Hark on Wednesday delivered the first State of the City address in city officials' recent memory.
During his speech, Hart highlighted successful city initiatives during the past year and outlined goals to achieve within the next year.
Community highlights that Hark noted include the redesigned tourism website; anti-heroin education and use of Narcan by the Hannibal Fire Department; infrastructure improvements such as bridge replacements; new park shelters; and improved ratings that lower insurance costs such as the selective Class 9 status with the Federal Emergency Management Agency flood rating system.
Although Hark expressed pride in the city's achievements, he said he is most proud of the Community PRIDE project -- PRIDE stands for Planned Renovation Investment Development Endeavor.
"We're starting to make progress, and that's important," Hark said.
The project developed while the Hannibal Police Department was working with the South Side Neighborhood Watch to reduce crime in the neighborhood. The department identified 53 vacant homes, most in states of decay, that often were used for illegal activity.
Community PRIDE offers incentives to investors to rehab the homes, thus removing blight and improving the city's housing stock.
"We have more than 23 investors who are looking into coming to Hannibal. Many have already purchased properties," Hark said.
He explained that if someone would have asked him 20 years ago where the program should start, he would have said the area around Hope and Chestnut streets.
"That's where crime statistics were the greatest. But what happened there is, everybody moved," Hark said. "There's a plethora of vacant homes there because there wasn't a program like this. That's why it's so important to do this (program in the South Side neighborhood) before everybody leaves."
He said that in terms of infrastructure, the city will install and replace street curbing; install a Grand Avenue bin-type retaining wall; repave and improve roads; augment street charm with lighting, landscaping, monuments or decorative signs; begin renovating the riverfront; renovate the grass field at the Norfolk and Southern Sports Complex; and extend Bear Creek Trail through Sodalis Nature Preserve.
Hark also expressed the importance of retaining businesses and a strong workforce.
"We must work to retain the jobs we have in our community," he said.
"I know there's been job losses lately. Companies we have lost are not because of anything we have done; these are corporate decisions made outside of this country. The way to respond to that is to start promoting the properties we have that are available for new manufacturing or retail in this community. It's my belief that if you want to attract new businesses, you have to show a strong willingness to retain what you have."
He said the city hopes to hold 65 retail retention visits; explore a performance measure system for all city services; plan the Regional Fire Academy in January, to be hosted by the Hannibal Fire Department and Moberly Area Community College; expand the Fire Department's Swift Water Rescue Team; build a more visible, modern Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau headquarters; and add park rangers and patrols.
In addition, the city hopes to create a prescription drug monitoring program with local medical and pharmaceutical providers and obtain a Class 8 FEMA rating, thus further increasing flood insurance discounts.
City officials also hope to catalyze new subdivision and housing investment and growth with 18 new Community PRIDE rehabs and a new subdivision code.
In Hark's closing remarks, he stressed the importance of creating a Hannibal that is attractive to visitors and residents, and works to address the needs of the community.
"If it were not for the Mississippi River and this town being built on this river, there would have never been a Mark Twain. That is the reason we have a legacy," Hark said of the international appeal of the city.
"The goal of your city government is to provide service to the community. That's what we're working toward, and hopefully in the end, we come out as a winner (in achieving city goals)."