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Ridgeway’s Renovation Gives Monticello Seniors Place To Check In (Winner | Quality of Life, Between 5,000-20,000)

3 min read

The Ridgeway Hotel Renovation Project brought new life to downtown Monticello. It improved the look of the area and one of its oldest properties. It provided a new centralized home for senior citizens to live independently with amenities within walking distance. It introduced a new customer base to businesses downtown. Finally, the project has inspired other dilapidated properties to be transformed.

“The Ridgeway Project has greatly contributed to our downtown revitalization efforts,” said Allen Maxwell, mayor of Monticello. “The city was committed to the success of the Ridgway from the beginning, offering our services with constructing sidewalks and renovating the historic building.”

For its contributions, Monticello is the winner of the 2013 Arkansas Business City of Distinction Quality of Life category for cities with a population between 5,000 and 20,000 people.

Monticello, like many rural communities, has seen first-hand how run-down and dilapidated architecture can hinder a community from recruiting new industries and citizens. Broken windows and neglected properties do not do much to promote a healthy first impression.

A 2005 community design study confirmed this, but also pointed out a lack of available residential housing in Monticello. Local developers and community banks had built several apartment complexes to accommodate the city’s youth population, growing due to higher enrollment at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. However, city leaders saw that while young people living near the UAM campus were enjoying the new properties, there was another segment of the population needing more living space – senior citizens.

Another survey asked members of the city’s elderly population what they wanted in residential living. Interest in smaller, more manageable apartments was high. Monticello had found its target base for what would become the Ridgeway Project.

The Ridgeway Hotel was built downtown in the 1930s. By the time the studies were commissioned, the five-story building sat mostly empty. Vegetation grew up its walls, its front awning in tatters. However, its location downtown within walking distance of stores, banks, churches and restaurants was still in its prime. Seeing a chance to make progress in three different areas — repairing a blight on the city’s landscape, providing more living space for seniors and bringing a population into downtown to spur business — with just one development, city leaders put a plan into action.

A partnership was developed to organize the Ridgeway’s renovation. The Monticello Economic Development Commission acted as the financing and management authority for grants and contracting. Three buildings including the hotel were gutted, restored and renovate as part of the project, at a cost of $5.2 million. The financing was raised through community donations coming in from over 50 organizations and individuals; financial and in-kind support from city, county and state government agencies; and over a million dollars brought in as a loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOME Loan program to the MEDC.

The Ridgeway Hotel Apartments opened its doors in August 2011 and reached full occupancy less than two years later. Tower Management of Hot Springs was contracted to handle the day-to-day operations of the facility including applicant reviews, resident relations and building maintenance. It collects the rent and pays it to the Monticello Economic Development Commission who in turn is paying back the HUD loan.

The tenants enjoy a wide range of amenities such as delivered meals and transportation programs offered by the non-profit Monticello Senior Citizens Center. For some of the residents who have been around for as long as the Ridgeway Hotel, living in one of its new apartments offers a chance to relive some personal history. The same ballroom that once hosted teen dances is now the center’s community room. Residents of the Ridgeway feel at home in its familiar surroundings.

The feeling of home is spreading from the Ridgeway too. Since its opening, more buildings downtown are offering residential living. Sales tax revenue from more shoppers downtown is on the rise. Other communities are looking at their historic, but downgraded properties and seeing how they can make something like the Ridgeway Project successful.

Maxwell agrees. “The Ridgeway has developed into an anchor for the downtown business district, provided affordable living for our city senior residents and improved the attractiveness of our community.”

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