Waynoka, Oklahoma, had a lot of vacant run-down buildings in their downtown. In a town of 900 people, the prospects didn’t look great. At an all-class reunion, a group of alumni got together and decided to change that.
They called themselves Project Waynoka, our friend and early contributor Jeanne Cole said. They started raising money. They bought one building. They raised more money with community events. They scrounged for materials. They rallied volunteer labor. They brought this one building up to code, then sold it.
With that money, they bought another building. More work, more fundraising, even more work, and there’s another building brought back into productive use.
They just kept saving buildings. Buildings that now house locally-owned businesses. The public library. The popular German restaurant.
A few buildings turned out to be in such bad shape that demolition was the best choice. So they took them down and then cleaned up the empty lots.
Their current project (as of 2018) is the old American Legion building. It’s a big project and will take a long time. But waiting for some outside savior to come do it hasn’t worked yet, and neighbors working together has worked. I’d bet on the neighbors.
It’s a model that any town can borrow: a small group of people rallying the community to save downtown buildings.
A group of Minneapolis neighbors who did a similar thing, with the added bonus of building cooperatives and nurturing local businesses as part of their project. Read more about it here: These Neighbors Got Together to Buy Vacant Buildings. Now They’re Renting to Bakers and Brewers
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