Thursday, November 27, 2008
Charrette stirs optimism
By SUE WATSON
The Holly Springs community seemed to beat with one heart last week as it met with the Main Street Charrette Team, a group of experts who studied the town.
The positives the team found outweighed the negatives by a large margin.
One thing the Main Street Mississippi team members said they found on a three-day romp around Holly Springs is the city has all kinds of character, both historic character and most of all the people kind.
“The people are what truly are delivering a different experience," said Ben Muldrow, a branding and marketing expert with the charrette team who summarized much of the team’s findings.
He said the connections in the community outweigh any individual events or attractions.
“You have what other communities lack – tremendous resources,” Muldrow said. “You have a whole host of unique opportunities, especially with M.I. College. It’s a huge opportunity.”
“All Kinds of Character” was a slogan created by Muldrow that could be used with the freshly designed logos he prepared for the city and for Rust College, a partner in the Main Street program.
Team member Cheryl Morgan, of Auburn University, said the team brought fresh eyes to the community to see what outsiders see when they tour the city. The community, itself, holds the dreams and aspirations of the community and the quality of life it envisions.
The Main Street initiative helps tease out those hidden dreams and aspirations and provides a forum for making those common aspirations visible to the entire community where they emerge as real actionable possibilities.
But implementation is by nature very gradual, some recommendations taking up to 10 years or more to bring to fruition, Morgan said.
The team presented some of its ideas and likely recommendations to an enthusiastic group of about 65 Wednesday evening, providing maps and many visual images of what the city looks like now and what it could look like.
Morgan said the city has “extraordinary assets, is a small town you should be proud of.”
Location is a strength that has not been yet fully exploited, but is important in future growth as Memphis overflows toward the area. Holly Springs will likely be impacted by communities and likewise influence communities within 30-minute and one-hour radius, she said.
Some strong assets she named included Strawberry Plains Audubon, the Holly Springs National Forest, Sardis Lake, Ole Miss, the Natchez Trace, and the future I-22.
Inside the city, the team emphasized making connections between the various assets and resources already at hand.
Spring Hollow Park, which seems to be cut off from downtown, would come to greater use by developing the park and area near the water tank and tower.
Better use of signage will help the city feel like a single community. And more green space would benefit downtown.
The downtown can be made more pedestrian friendly and fewer cars parked on the square would open the community up for pedestrian traffic.
Morgan said the community is ripe for attracting tourists on day trips and a place where retirees would want to come settle.
The agricultural heritage, the verdant character, and the old town sense of care of gardens and yards is an asset yet to be fully exploited. The color, natural landscape and connection to nature is what visitors and newcomers are drawn to, she said.
The team suggested that north/south truck traffic be diverted away from the square when possible, particularly truck traffic coming south on Memphis. Trucks could be required to turn right at the Post Office and enter Craft Street at the intersection of East College and Craft Street.
Traffic circulation around the square could be improved by making traffic two-way all around the square.
The city has many attractive spaces for future housing and residential fill-in.
The area around Big Star would be ideal for commercial redevelopment, the team said.
North Memphis is an important gateway from the north, west and east, and needs lots of change, in addition to what already has been done. The team recommended North Memphis be transformed into a boulevard. Lots of attractive signage that informs drivers the direction to key locations in the city would be beneficial.
Attractive banners placed on lamp posts in the North Memphis and Rust College area would also provide a sense of arrival.
North Memphis also needs more color and texture. The team suggested planting some trees here and there and marking pedestrian crossings along the thoroughfare.
The depot area is an ideal spot for developing artist work spaces and an artisan's zone.
The M.I. Campus needs protecting and revitalization. As an historic landmark, the property holds some of the best promise for redevelopment into a cultural and arts center.
As for the core downtown area, “So many things are right already,” Morgan said. “So, things to be worked on would be about reinforcing what is already there.”
The canopies around the square should stay up for now, a team member said.
At the end of the charrette, the crowd took on an aura of a smiling convention.
Full of excitement about the possibilities, Mayor Andre’ DeBerry and Dr. David Beckley made concluding remarks.
“All kinds of character – I like that,” said DeBerry. “It is a time that has been too long coming. It is a time to unite the community.”
Inspired by the Main Street team’s report, the mayor said his father used to say, “It’s a poor dog that won’t wag its own tail.”
“Here’s this team wagging our tail, and we need to be doing it,” he said.
Holly Springs Main Street Executive Director Cynthia Brewer was impressed by the turnout of the community for the public hearing and presentations and that those in attendance reflected a good cross-section of the community.
She praised both the community and the team.
“It is a fantastic team to work with and I thank the team as well as Dr. Beckley, Rust College and Clencie Cotton for graciously hosting this event,” Brewer said.
As the team goes back to formulate some specific recommendations and narratives, Brewer said she is already getting phone calls from individuals interested in the city’s Main Street program.
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