The Houston Welcome Center.

A historic Houston building rehabilitated by a local group will soon have new tenants under a deal struck between the City of Houston and Downtown Houston Inc.

The Haney Market – constructed in 1936 and a landmark for commerce in Houston – will become a welcome center next month. Downtown Houston Inc. acquired the old building and nearly two acres and restored the structure and added a wildflower garden that complements a city walking trail that continues to expand.

Downtown Houston Inc. President Brad Gentry and Houston Mayor Steve Hutcheson signed a contract this week between the bodies. Plans call to organize volunteers to man the 1,500 square foot building and lease a portion of the space to the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce. The area – near U.S. 63 and Oak Hill Drive – has been the scene of a transformation over the last two years: A redi-mix plant site was cleaned and converted to a walking trail along Brushy Creek, apartments were demolished to eventually expand Emmett Kelly Park and new business development also has occurred. Farther north, the city has begun the construction of a $3.5 million wastewater treatment plant.

The Haney Market project and the creation of Lone Star Plaza were projects of the downtown group, which financed the efforts through private donations totaling nearly $500,000. The group’s efforts were aided by its participation in Missouri’s Neighborhood Assistance Program that gives state tax credits to donors and also allows them a federal deduction. Landmark Bank and Town and Country Supermarket were major benefactors of the projects.

A $360,000 grant paid for many new sidewalks downtown, as well as the first lighting upgrade to the business district since the 1970s. Along the way, new trash receptacles, wrought iron benches and historical copper etchings were added.

The Haney Market project was a big undertaking: The entire structure was renovated. At the project’s start, only stone walls stood as reminder of founder Arthur Haney’s thriving store. A new roof was added, an interior constructed, modern bathrooms included and display cases and desk space also grace the building. Downtown Houston members Marian McKinney and Kathy Richardson created the floor plan with input from the organization’s membership.

The building’s focus will be three-fold:

—Home to the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce, the city’s oldest business-related organization.

—Volunteers will be available to help visitors learn more about the region and its offering. Persons interested in volunteering call contact Elaine Campbell at 417-967-3348 or e-mail at A training session is planned after the first of the year.

—The proximity to the walking trail and nearby stream will serve as an occasional laboratory for educational adventures by the Missouri Department of Conservation with area school students.

So what other projects might occur downtown? The local group says its next focus will be expanding and improving a farmers’ market that continues to show growth. It most recently sought funding through a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program to construct a structure west of the Lone Star Plaza that includes covered space for the market and a stage for downtown activities.

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