The Edmond Sun

January 22, 2014

Main Street Program in Hobart thriving

William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun

HOBART — Table Mountain is located at the end of the African continent in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s name reflects the fact that it is flat at its highest elevation.

During the spring and summer, the clouds that surround it often hang  from its edges and create a visual image that is referenced in travel guides to Southern Africa that resembles a tablecloth. A somewhat similar visual phenomenon is present in the community of Hobart in southwest Oklahoma in the fall when fog occasionally surrounds the  peaks of the adjacent Quartz Mountains.

Hobart, which is approximately 90 minutes from the Oklahoma City area, came into existence early in the last century when land in southern Indian Territory was opened for settlement. It is now primarily a ranching and farming community and serves as the county seat of Kiowa County. Like most communities in rural Oklahoma, Hobart has lost population in recent years, but it has put in place measures to encourage growth and development. Hobart has been designated a “business incubator” by the state of Oklahoma, which permits individuals to secure a 10-year tax exemption on some commercial buildings provided that they open businesses there.

Hobart also has a certified industrial park and there are plans to construct a new truck stop and hotel at that location. Stephen Boyd, director of the Hobart Main Street Program, recently spoke about some of the renovation  that has taken place in downtown Hobart under the auspices of that organization. For the last 11 years, Boyd reports, Hobart’s Main Street has received an annual grant from the Midwestern Oklahoma Development Authority specifically for storefront restoration projects. Those funds have been used to put in place a storefront grant program for downtown Hobart business owners who wish to improve the facades of their businesses and provides them with both financial and architectural assistance .

That undertaking has resulted in over $600,000 being invested in facade renovation  and over 50 buildings with new facades in downtown Hobart, according to Boyd.

Perhaps the most notable facade restoration that occurred there is the restored J.C. Penney building where formerly tarnished gold and black tiles now gleam and the sun shines through windows that had been covered by aluminum siding for decades.

The website “Cinema Treasures” documents classic movie theaters around the nation that are still in existence. The Esquire Theater in downtown Hobart is listed on that site. The site indicates that it was originally known as the Kiowa Theater and that it may have been designed by the same individual who designed the Sooner Theater in Norman.

The Esquire has been closed for several decades and is in a state of disrepair. But the Hobart Main Street Director hopes that that it will be renovated soon and there are reports that several parties have expressed an interest in such an undertaking.

While there are still vacant buildings downtown, Boyd asserts that several of them are currently being restored and will soon be available for new businesses. Once a year, according to Boyd, a large group of Hobart High School students clean up parts of that community as part of what is known as “Big Bang Day” that is the result of a partnership between the local Main Street Association and the high school.

Downtown Hobart hosts a variety of events throughout the year that allow people to see firsthand the rebirth that is occurring there. Those gatherings include what is known as the “Pumpkin Palooza Festival” that is held on the first Saturday in October in Hobart in which pumpkins are shot into the air by air cannons and catapults..

The successes of the Hobart Main Street will be celebrated Feb. 13 at a banquet that will feature  Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, who will speak about the accomplishments of the Oklahoma Main Street Program.

WILLIAN F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.