By Allen Edmonds
So many times since the closing of Richards Gebaur Air Force Base, the word “redevelopment” has been tossed around.
The Avenue that served as Belton’s “new” commercial hub at one time, providing everything a military base could consume (and that was plenty), today remains a sad reminder of what once was, while the city’s outskirts are marketed to developers far and wide.
Whether we like it or not, facts are facts, and green space next to heavily traveled suburban interstate highways are what developers are looking for in today’s world. Traffic equals dollar signs, period.
But I had a chance to sit down with Jim Oden in his restaurant on Monday during his one day a week of not serving what I think is by far the best barbecue in town at Oden’s Barbecue in the far north reaches of North Scott.
He, like me, was also recovering from whatever that crazy three hours was at Arrowhead the day before, but that raises my blood pressure to even think about – so I won’t.
A little over 30 years ago, Jim put everything he had and more into a homey, comfortable, rustic beauty of a building on North Scott – a place where people like me, my friends and family have shared burnt ends, ribs and brisket for most of our adult lives.
I think I had my first Odie’s on the Long Bun soon after he opened, sometime in the late ‘80s. Twice in recent years, I’ve feared I’d had my last plate of burnt ends and fries after headline-making fires nearly ended the joint’s run, but “I don’t know what else I’d do – I’m not ready to retire,” Jim said.
But it gets lonely at his end of town, and decades after the base closed, he doesn’t understand why a pall still hangs over the neighborhood.
“You can look all up and down North Scott, and we have three or four convenience stores and a couple of bars. Every other business we have closes up shop after 6 p.m.,” he said.
“I don’t care if it’s other restaurants, in fact, I’d like it if we had some other restaurants up here generating traffic and interest in the area.”
Oden said he participated enthusiastically in the community meetings that led up to the North Scott Development Plan several years ago.
“I went to their meetings, and I shared ideas and listened to everyone else’s, and I had some hope. But then, nothing,” he said. “We’ve had one new building built up here in recent years, and that’s the Dollar General. It was needed here, and that’s great, but why is that all?
“I don’t know, it just gets frustrating, not seeing anyone around after 6 o’clock. We need strip centers with businesses that are open,” he said.
This is far from a new, or narrowly expressed, concern. Belton’s core, whether it be North Scott or Old Town, has taken a back seat for years, if not decades. And it shows, in both places.
Yes, a tremendous amount of work and a fair amount of city money was spent on the North Scott Development Plan, which established design standards to set the stage for a beautiful renaissance – in theory. The same could and probably will be done with Old Town at some point.
In Mayor Jeff Davis’ early days in office, he told everyone who would listen his plan to extend a divided four-lane Markey Parkway around the curve, behind QT Distribution to meet North Scott, and how that would spur development in long-neglected area.
We’ve heard little since.
It takes effort, special attention and sacrifice to redevelop our core. We can’t just talk about it and then return to selling interstate frontage because it’s easy. Let’s do something that shows we’re making progress.