Board members see new opportunities for Main Street

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 10/14/17

Several board members for Jasper Main Street shared the optimism that its director, Mike Putman, has for the organization and for Jasper, adding early goals …

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Board members see new opportunities for Main Street

Posted

Several board members for Jasper Main Street shared the optimism that its director, Mike Putman, has for the organization and for Jasper, adding early goals have succeeded and raising the idea that its scope and input could go beyond the downtown area.

Debbie Young Sanders, the past president of Jasper Main Street, said, “The success we’ve seen in such a short period of time is going to continue to grow. The proven plan with the four points of the Main Street program are working for us and the enthusiasm is growing. You can see the new businesses opening. I just look for greater things along the way.”

She said the Main Street program requires a director be hired, noting that is “paramount to the success of the program.” Putman can devote time to the projects that business owners can’t as they try to operate their own stores. “We’re very fortunate. Mike is a wonderful director, probably the best in the state.”

The current board president, Dustin Beaty, said, “I think we’ve come a long way in almost three years. I think we have a lot more to do. I’m very proud of where we are positioned right now. I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”

He said possibly the greatest success of the program has been the buy-in from the community.

“I think there was some uncertainty as to what Main Street was about,” he said. “I think we’re somewhat overcoming that, for them to buy in and see Main Street is a very good thing for Jasper — not just for downtown, but for the City of Jasper.” 

Board member John Nix, who has been on the board about six months, said Putman does a good job. He noted the Foothills Festival and the Jasper Eats event went well.

“We’ve got a lot planned for next year,” he said. “We’re going to encompass more than just downtown. We’re going to try to encompass the whole city of Jasper.” He said Putman “stays ahead of the game. He goes to other places and gets ideas from them. He’s been to Florence and he’s going to Marion County next week. He brings it back to Jasper.” 

Brent McCarver, who is the fundraising consultant to Jasper Main Street, said Main Street has done “a tremendous job” in revitalizing not so much downtown but the idea, interest and promotion of downtown. He pointed out the $1.2 million in renovations and rehab projects have been undertaken downtown since Jasper Main Street started.

While he said Jasper has almost become a food and brewery destination, it is more than just restaurants, as retail is also available and growing.

“That was Phase 1 of what we wanted to do, was to peak the interest in downtown to get people to come back down here,” McCarver said. “I think it is very successful at that.”

The next step will be to bring in more types of retail and things such as the living in loft apartments, working with the city on new ordinances and zoning. With the entertainment district in place, “we can look at types of zoning where specific businesses can be in specific areas.” 

He said the economic vitality committee is working with Bevill State Community College and local businesses, such as banks, on an entrepreneur program and have a “Shark Tank” type event at the end to get local investors involved.

“Getting people to realize what was down here, that was the first step,” he said. “Now we need to refine it. First, we need to get what is down here more desirable and easier to get to, and second, we need to help those people in business to stay in business and to prosper.” 

As for fundraising opportunities, McCarver said the footprint of Main Street will be expanded to a wider area, such as Highway 118. Honda of Jasper has officials who are founding members of Jasper Main Street, for example.

“You don’t have to be sitting on 19th Street to be a part of it,” he said.

He said significant people in town who are very generous have an interest in moving forward and moving back to where Jasper was a thriving place, including on Saturdays.

“People want their hometown to be really nice,” McCarver said. “If you have an organization focused on doing that, then it makes it pretty easy to get those people who already have that philanthropic leaning to get involved. People like to see organization and plans, and that is something Main Street definitely has.” 

As for Putman, he said the director was doing a “tremendous Job” in the organization.

“You know, Mike came from the education field, and specifically in theater. Of course, I think he has had some growing pains with everything from business to politics. Jasper is probably an interesting place to stick your foot into politics and business for the first time,” he said with a laugh. “But I think Mike has done a wonderful job adapting. He is a phenomenal promoter, tireless worker, a great personality. He embodies what the executive director should be. He really cares about downtown. He really loves this Main Street deal. We’re proud to have him.” 

Jud Allen, the president of the Friends of Downtown Jasper, noted that group is a 501(c)(3) organization that works closely with Jasper Main Street to beautification of downtown, preserving history and encourage people to come to downtown.

“Recently Main Street had an idea of doing a beautification project using some trees that are not going to be too big but will make downtown look good. We decided as the Friends of Jasper that was something we could help donate to. We’re helping Main Street fund that.

“Main Street and Friends of Downtown Jasper have parallel purposes. You can donate to Main Street, but if you donate to Friends of Downtown Jasper, we’ll give you a tax deduction.”

He said if someone wants to promote arts in downtown, he said the board can look to see if that is something the Friends group can do or would want to do. He noted last spring the group promoted a concert where school students attended.