Photo project to highlight downtown pros, cons

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

October 23, 2013

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, which could describe a project under way by a local group to highlight good and bad appearance elements of Mount Airy’s central business district.

“Picture Downtown” has been launched by Mount Airy Downtown Inc. — an organization that recently replaced Downtown Mount Airy Inc. — as part of a visioning process that coincides with the city recently rejoining the North Carolina Main Street Program.

Lizzie Morrison, Main Street coordinator, has sought to recruit 36 local citizens to take photographs of various design elements within designated boundaries of the downtown area. Participants are asked to document a total of nine elements they either like or dislike, in preparation for an upcoming meeting geared toward downtown revitalization.

The Downtown Mount Airy Community Economic Vision 2018 Forum will be held on Nov. 19 at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History from 6:30 to 9 p.m. It will provide stake-holders including residents, business owners, property owners and community leaders an opportunity to participate in shaping long-range plans for the central business district.

That includes its appearance, Morrison said, with the photos now being taken to be a key part of the Nov. 19 session.

“They’ll serve as talking points, so they’ll be at the entrance of the meeting,” she explained.

This will provide meeting participants a visual display of various aesthetic elements that should be preserved, or perpetuated, as well as those which should be corrected or eliminated. At the same time, new ideas could emerge, Morrison added.

The design elements can include such features as buildings, alleyways, signs, trees, streetlights, benches, sidewalks, natural areas and others.

Murals And More

As an example gleaned from the pictures turned in so far, the coordinator said one photographer submitted a scene of a bare wall to make the case that it would be “a great place” for a mural, she said.

Morrison, who began work on July 1 and has a background in art, has said more public art, such as sculptures as well as murals, is one way to enhance the appearance of downtown Mount Airy. That would be in addition to traditional steps such as storefront and landscaping improvements.

The “Picture Downtown” project has met with enthusiasm from the 36 citizens initially selected to participate in the project, Morrison said.

“I haven’t heard back from everyone I’ve reached out to, but I’ve gotten a pretty good response,” she said, which includes about 20 people so far.

Anyone else who would like to participate can contact Morrison at 786-4511 for further instructions.

The photographs must be submitted by Nov. 12 in order to be printed in time for the Nov. 19 meeting, where they will be displayed anonymously.

Vision Is Goal

The objective of the Nov. 19 meeting is the development of a vision statement for the next five years for downtown Mount Airy.

Many agree that the city’s central business district presently is thriving, but that a more-organized approach is needed to sustain its vitality in the future and remain competitive with other cities — including doing a better job of branding itself.

That was among the reasons for Mount Airy rejoining the North Carolina Main Street Program, which it initially became part of in the 1980s before later withdrawing. More than 60 communities were participating in the initiative at last report.

The state program is designed to stimulate economic development within the context of historic preservation. This is accomplished through a comprehensive four-point approach to downtown revitalization developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and used by the National Trust Main Street Center to assist communities across the country.

By rejoining the program, Mount Airy can receive technical assistance, program guidance, networking opportunities with other communities and additional services.

The Nov. 19 meeting at the museum seeks a broad spectrum of community representation in shaping long-range plans for downtown Mount Airy. In addition to business or property owners, this can include arts and cultural groups, the educational community, civic organizations, city public works and safety officials, real estate agents, bankers and anyone else with a stake or interest in the situation.

Participants will break into small groups to identify strengths and weaknesses and offer suggestions about what they would like to see downtown Mount Airy become on a long-term basis.

Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or