Thursday, May 22, 2008
Leadership class learns more about Main Street
By SUE WATSON
Leadership Marshall 2008 heard from the William Winter Institute about racial reconciliation, then learned more about Main Street revitalization programs and public/private partnerships during the last class meeting before graduation in June.
This is the second year the class has participated in workshops led by the Winter Institute at Ole Miss dealing with racial stereotyping and the racial divide.
The afternoon sessions dealt with the Mississippi Main Street Program, led by Sam Agnew, who spent the earlier part of the day with the city of Holly Springs and Rust College representatives talking about formation of a board of directors. Holly Springs was admitted to the Mississippi Main Street Program this year.
Agnew applauded the leadership class and Marshall County for promoting leadership training.
“What you all are doing is great stuff,” he said.
The nationwide Main Street Program is an offshoot of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Problems with urban sprawl in the 1950s and the deterioration of downtown districts led the National Trust to look at ways to revitalize downtowns. Main Street was established in 1980 to do that and exists in every state in the union.
In Mississippi, Main Street contracts with the Mississippi Development Authority to work on downtown service area jobs and quality of life projects, Agnew said.
Neighbors with established Main Street Programs include Olive Branch, Hernando, Senatobia, Ripley, New Albany and Tunica.
Agnew said communities are recognized not by their urban shopping malls but by the character and appearance of downtown.
“Industry views downtown as a reflection of the vibrancy of the community,” Agnew said.
Since towns and cities already have a large portion of their tax base in place downtown, it is more cost effective to revitalize a downtown area rather than build new structures outside the town, Agnew said.
Downtowns serve as the historical center of the community, produce a marketable image of the community, are a venue for tourism and “the heart and soul of the community,” Agnew said.
The program tackles downtown revitalization through a four-point approach - organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring.
The organizational aspect creates a structure from which Main Street can operate from a financial and logistical basis. The community establishes a board of directors and a Main Street executive director and office and then organizes committees to flesh out ideas and get work accomplished.
The design aspect includes preservation of historical structures, improvements in downtown facades, the rehabilitation of existing buildings, beautification projects (landscaping, window improvements) - all to improve the appearance of downtown.
Downtown must be promoted and this is done by staging celebratory events, festivals, holding open house, sales promotionals - all done through public/private partnerships. Promotional events are vital to improving community moral, Agnew said.
Economic restructuring includes the work of taking inventory of existing structures and businesses, studying trade trends, helping existing businesses stay in business - all to further economic development and job creation/retention.
Upstairs apartments over businesses is a common element of economic development of a downtown area.
Eight guiding principles Main Street operates with include – a comprehensive approach; incremental actions; self-help; forming public/private partnerships; building back with quality; changing old attitudes and action-oriented solutions.
Ann Sansing, with Mississippi State Extension in Starkville, led the class through an exercise on building strategic partnerships to complete the day’s activities.
The class looked at important issues they believe the county faces - education, gas prices, weather extremes, healthcare, recycling, endangered species (polar bears endangerment, as an example), community pride and employment.
Public/private partnerships can get things done that neither alone can get done, Sansing said.
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