Thursday, November 12, 2009
City’s pledge to Main Street questioned
By SUE WATSON
Sam Agnew with the Mississippi Main Street Program sat with Clencie Cotton, member of the Holly Springs Main Street board of directors, to ask if the city is committed to the financial backing of the project.
Agnew reviewed the project briefly, hoping business people in the area will understand more fully what Main Street is about.
“It is an economic development tool based in historical preservation,” he told the mayor and board of aldermen last week.
Mississippi Main Street is a major partner with the Mississippi Development Authority which views the program as an economic tool.
Main Street is not designed to bring immediate and magical economic improvements, but a long-term community and economic revitalization project that requires local leadership and time, Agnew said.
“We are selling downtown as a place to live, work and play,” he said.
Main Street sponsors special events like holiday open houses, festivals and the like. It also addresses the physical appearance of a downtown, helping make it cleaner and more attractive and accessible with good signage to help out-of-town folks find their way around an unfamiliar town they are visiting.
Main Street also strives to put existing buildings that are unoccupied back to use so a city can draw more tax revenue from a community’s existing resources.
In terms of commitment, there has been some discussion at the state Main Street level on whether the city of Holly Springs is truly willing to financially back the program, Agnew said.
“We would need some dialogue and get a commitment and information by December,” he said.
Cotton reported that every downtown business owner has been contacted and shown a map in an attempt to get memberships from the businesses. Without a source of funding, the program is in danger of failure.
“I believe we are at a critical stage and we want to know (what is) the commitment of business and building owners downtown,” he said. “Obviously, there is confusion as to whether the city is committed as a lead partner (Rust College has co-partnered with the city to establish the program). There has been a public misunderstanding and (belief) that the commitment from the city is temporary and limited.”
Cotton said the state and business community is prepared to participate provided there is city (mayor and board of aldermen) leadership to make it a success.
“Please explain what seems to be the concern that the city is committed,” Mayor Andre’ DeBerry said.
“We ran out of funds for a director in mid-stream,” said Cotton. “We can say that sent the wrong signal (to Mississippi Main Street) because they think the city has withdrawn support.”
“The city has included a line-item budget ($20,000 dollars),” DeBerry answered. “We need other stakeholders. I would hope the city would have seeded enough (money) in three or four years to get us going so it can sustain itself. In these tough economic times as we juggle dollars, we will stay committed but need buy-in (from business memberships).”
Agnew said there is a question about collection of dues and the program needs a manager or staff person.
“We may have to use a joint venture process to get something done,” said DeBerry. “We are committed to the process. We want the city joined by stakeholders. We are not going to desert it.”
“Being self-sustained is a lofty goal, but we don’t want to push that too soon,” said Agnew.
Cotton said the program has yet to get non-profit status so it can accept funds and donations that have already been offered from one entity.
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