Most observers agree that Mount Airy already has a thriving downtown area, but local officials will be spending $45,000 in the coming months to maintain this and hopefully make it even better.
The city board of commissioners recently voted unanimously to seek the designation of a North Carolina Main Street community under a program operated through the state Department of Commerce.
Mount Airy once was part of the Main Street Program, beginning in the 1980s, but for many years has been going it alone as far as achieving an overall goal of marketing and economic development within the context of historic preservation.
That has produced results including North Main Street often being crowded with tourists and shoppers. And there have been accolades such as Mount Airy being named the winner of the 2012 People’s Choice contest for Great Main Street earlier this year by the state chapter of the American Planning Association.
Meanwhile, the central business district also is home to well-attended annual events such as the Autumn Leaves Festival and Bud Break.
However, officials of an organization known as Downtown Mount Airy Inc. (DMI) — a city government-appointed group that oversees infrastructure improvements using an additional tax on properties in the district — believe more can be done. A successful city application to again be part of the Main Street Program would allow Mount Airy to receive technical assistance, program guidance, networking opportunities with other communities and additional services.
Appearance and user-friendliness are among the elements stressed, based on a recent presentation by a program official.
“We are not going to try to change some of the things that are happening downtown, because we have one of the healthiest downtowns in the state,” DMI President Ted Ashby, a local banker, explained Friday. Ashby praised the efforts of organizations such as the Surry Arts Council and Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce in making that possible through their various activities and events.
“This is not going to replace what they’re doing,” the DMI official said of involvement in the state program. “This is to supplement what’s going on and add some continuity to the process.”
Coordinator To Be Hired
As part of that, the board of commissioners approved on Dec. 6 a commitment of $45,000 over a three-year period to help fund the salary of a “downtown manager” and program activities during that time. The manager, or coordinator, is required as part of Mount Airy’s entry into the Main Street Program.
“The recruitment will start in the first quarter of next year,” Ashby said of seeking someone to fill that position.
He said DMI wants to make sure the municipality is officially accepted into the state program before proceeding along those lines.
“We have to assume we’ll be approved,” Ashby said of the application process, but “we’d like to have an approval before we hire someone.”
He said it would be difficult for a job candidate to make a career move without such an assurance.
Figuring that approval will be forthcoming, which is expected in about 60 days, DMI plans to begin advertising in local and regional publications for job applicants.
“We haven’t allocated any funds to do that yet,” Ashby said.
He had said last summer that the upcoming effort should lead to downtown Mount Airy doing a better job of “branding” itself, while also identifying a long-range vision.
DBA Efforts To Continue
The plans by DMI to implement and manage downtown-revitalization activities aren’t expected to undermine efforts of another organization, the Downtown Business Association (DBA). Among other work, it sponsors numerous events throughout the year to attract visitors, including the Christmas parade, a bridal fair and others.
Phil Marsh, DBA president, said Saturday that it’s his understanding the new downtown manager will be involved in seeking grants for facade and other improvements and not overlap his organization’s functions.
“The DBA will still be doing the same things we’ve been doing,” Marsh said. “As far as the events…we’ll keep doing those.”
Marsh added that the DBA will “do what we can” to assist the overall effort downtown.
The North Carolina Main Street Program originated through a national initiative in 1980 that grew to involve 46 states and more than 1,400 localities. The state effort now provides direct assistance to 61 Main Street communities.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.