Thursday, September 23, 2010
Byhalia takes steps toward Main Street
By SUE WATSON
If there is anyone ready to work for the vision of Byhalia, Kent Mathis is certainly one who is.
He has put in a lot of effort trying to pull a community team together to bring Mississippi Main Street to the Marshall County town.
Mathis praised those who participated recently in planning charrettes that would pave the way for Byhalia Main Street Association. According to the Byhalia Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sarah Sawyer, Mathis wore out a good pair of shoes going door to door seeking support for Main Street.
Mathis said the planning charrettes “were a culmination of a lot of work going forward.”
He praised the town’s mayor and board of aldermen for their “dedication to doing something better” for the community.
“There are places to start and things we as a community can do,” he said.
Mathis was not the only one singing the praises of the mayor and board of aldermen.
Randy Wilson, a consulting architect with Mississippi Main Street, said the leadership is exceptional.
“The fact that they were there and they were involved and helped make judicious decisions, the outreach of the Byhalia United Methodist Church (that provided meeting space), and ultimately the people make or break this,” he said.
He then provided graphic overview of some ideas that are included in the vision for Byhalia.
Wilson listed some of the places the community planners thought could use some attention – downtown park and Brunswick Street; parking; landscaping; enhancing appearance of the town corridors; improvements of major intersections; landscaping and use of the old high school property; use of the Northcentral Mississippi EPA property after it is vacated; activities for children; building of many more ball fields and park improvements; building community pride; providing things for the community to do together; and an overall vision of what Main Street would look like and be like.
Building community pride and attracting external investors are a part of the planned solution to community development and growth, Wilson said. Taking care of the heart and soul of the downtown and its gateways and thoroughfares is another way to draw attention to Main Street, he said.
Core areas to begin work on are Church Street and Highway 178, Northcentral and the old high school - both gateways to the town.
Making the area between Church Street and Northcentral walkable would improve the visibility of the community, he said. Providing good sidewalks and adding signage would be integral to the physical design of downtown.
East and West Brunswick, which are one-way streets, could become more inviting to outsiders with improvement in parking layouts, widening of sidewalks, the addition of simple landscaping, and building access ramps that connect to the sidewalks. Lighting would improve the nighttime appearance of Brunswick.
Wilson said standard light posts, benches and garbage container bins would help build a sense of continuity from one area to another. Putting parking behind buildings when possible would enhance the visibility of the fronts of businesses. That would be combined with good walkways connecting the parking to the businesses.
Removal of overhead wires in the gateway areas, addition of landscaping at intersections and the use of brand banners on poles and planting of trees would make places like Highway 178 inviting to the eye of those who drive through the town. Wayfinding signage pointing to downtown landmarks would also invite people into the town.
An attractive branding design making use of the oak tree and lettering could be placed throughout the town and on the water tower to bring a sense of uniqueness to the town. The use of murals on the sides of buildings, especially at the corner of Church Street and Highway 309, the creative use of paint on brick buildings and crosswalks would help create a sense of arrival to downtown.
Jeremy Murdock, with Mississippi State, discussed ideas for catalyst projects. Those included adding two to four ball fields, one of which could be a flex field used for soccer; expanding walking trails to connect these areas to downtown; and creating a space for an art gallery, performance space and office space for the arts council.
The old Byhalia high school campus could be developed into an “Old School Commons” and have a campus feel with lots of trees planted to surround it and provide sitting shade at ball fields. The town hall could be relocated to the school building or to the Northcentral building.
“Whatever goes to the Old High School Building needs to have activity throughout the day,” Murdock said.
Branding and marketing are used to tell the story of Byhalia. That calls attention to Byhalia and to what makes the town different and special and reflects who the people are.
Branding messages communicate what the community wants to say about itself – it is a great place to call home; it is peaceful; it is always in bloom; welcome home.
Mathis encouraged the people to find something they liked in the vision for Byhalia and buy in to some aspect of it. The short-term, median-term and long-term goals can be met gradually if everyone will find a little project in the vision of Byhalia that they like and are willing to help bring it about, he said.
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