Downtown Marceline recently hired Marceline resident Toni Sportsman to take over as the organization’s executive director.

The mostly volunteer group has been around since the fall of 2013 working to revitalize Main Street USA.

Downtown Marceline is made up of 31 volunteers working to make Main Street USA a destination spot. The organization is classified as a nonprofit and is bolstered by the Missouri Main Street Connection, which is a larger group looking to revitalize many main streets across the state.

Earlier this summer, Downtown Marceline entered a funding agreement with Missouri Main Street Connection and the City of Marceline. Each group put up $10,000 to fund the first year of a executive director for the organization. After about a month of looking for the new director, Toni Sportsman was hired on.

Sportsman grew up in Marceline, graduating from Marceline High School in 1997. After high school, Sportsman lived in Ireland for a period of time and moved back to her hometown. Previously, she had worked with a similar organization tasked with revitalization called The Magic of Marceline.

Michael Olinger served as the group’s executive director prior to Sportsman. He led the organization from April 2016 to August 2018.

Aug. 28, I sat down with Sportsman at the Toonfest office on Main Street USA to discuss Sportsman’s new position, the history of Downtown Marceline and where she hopes to take the organization.

What is Downtown Marceline, for people who are unfamiliar?

The technical term for Downtown Marceline is a 501(C)(3) formed under the Missouri Main Street Connection and National Main Street Center. Downtown Marceline is following the main street approach, which is a comprehensive four-point strategy that is a proven method for downtown revitalization. The four points are, economic reconstruction, design, promotion and organization committees. In layman’s term, it’s a group community driven by volunteers striving to bring life back to Marceline as a whole. We want to make Marceline a destination town, as well as a fun place to live and invest. In order to complete the four points, we need to work on real estate needs, infrastructure improvements, building restoration and bring new businesses to Marceline.

Why is Downtown Marceline important for the community?

I think the organization is important because we’re seeing a decline in small towns. There are not very many big businesses investing in small towns. In my lifetime, I have seen declines in Marceline. Downtown was once a vibrant place, with a clothing store and a drug store. We need a program like Missouri Main Street Connection to help us to figure out ways to bring life to the downtown area. With their resources and their history, they are a leading us to the direction of making downtown alive once again.

What do you do as the executive director?

I manage day-to-day operations, as well as being a full-time advocate for Marceline. My job is to implement the downtown master plan. I’m seeking state and national funding through grants to assist in our vision of a more sustainable and vibrant downtown. Along with that, I will help the board members and volunteers, taking burden off of those members, so they can focus on different projects.

If people are interested in volunteering, what should they do?

Anyone interested in volunteering can stop by the Toonfest office and talk to me. We can discuss what committee they might be interested in joining. They can approach the board members, or existing committee members. They can also visit our website, and find us on Facebook too.

Who is on the board and how many committees are there?

The board consists of our President Julie Sheerman, Vice President Mary Beth Switzer, Chris Ankeney secretary, Dawn Lichtenberg treasurer, Gary Belt, Zach Bruner, Lee Hoover and Kaye Malins. The committees include economic vitality, design, organization and promotion. Economic vitality identifies ne market opportunities. They hope to stimulate new investment opportunities. Design is raising awareness of the design downtown and the surrounding community. Organization promotes the revitalization efforts through communication and public relations. They encourage public and private investments through funding and other resources. The promotion team works to promote downtown as the center of commerce, culture and community. We encourage anyone in the community to volunteer.

What are your goals as executive director?

My goals are to set the group’s future plans, prioritizing the organization’s goals moving forward and getting up to speed with the timeline Missouri Main Street Connection gave us. I want to focus on our four-point approach, increase the awareness of Downtown Marceline, build strong relationships with elected officials, property owners, citizens, downtown stakeholders, business owners and other community organizations. It’s important that we work with everyone for the better of the community. I’d also like to develop a plan for our vacant and abandoned buildings. I want to encourage the younger generations to get more active and involved with the community. I think we have a lot to learn from the older generation.

Anything else you would like to add?

I want to thank everyone who came out to the Wine and Art Stroll. Thank you to all of the vendors, artists, musicians, sponsors and of course the attendees, we had a great turnout of 498 attendees. We had more vendors than ever before and more artists than any year previously. In addition to that, I’d just like to say we have so much history in Marceline that we can utilize. I want people get involved with the community and bring Marceline back to the place it used to be.