City looking into Main Street program

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 4/29/17

CARBON HILL — A state official from Main Street Alabama told the Carbon Hill City Council Thursday about ways that other cities are revitalizing themselves, as the city is planning to set up its own committee soon.

Councilman McClain Burrough …

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City looking into Main Street program

Posted

CARBON HILL — A state official from Main Street Alabama told the Carbon Hill City Council Thursday about ways that other cities are revitalizing themselves, as the city is planning to set up its own committee soon.

Councilman McClain Burrough said anyone wanting to volunteer to be on the local committee could see him.

Trisha Black, a field services specialist for the Birmingham-based Main Street Alabama, was invited by Burrough to speak to the council to allow it to understand what the organization could do. She said she also toured the downtown area earlier in the day.

Black, who was also a Main Street director in Athens for several years, said during a PowerPoint presentation Carbon Hill is a “network member.” According to the group’s website, mainstreetalabama.org, Main Street Alabama has 19 designated communities, including Jasper, and 33 network communities, including Cordova, Kansas and Carbon Hill, spread throughout the state.

“We focus on your historic downtown, your city center,” she said, noting many people moved away from cities.

“What people are telling us is that they want to revitalize their downtowns again,” she said, noting the national Main Street program came up with a model that has worked in more than 2,000 communities in the U.S. over the past three decades.

That model advocates organization, design, promotion and economic vitality, as a focused approach will have more success.

“Sometimes they make their downtown really pretty, but they don’t have any businesses in the (buildings), so that is kind of defeating the purpose,” he said.

Training programs in Main Street are open to anyone, but network members get a discount. A designated program like Jasper gets more services, although they pay a higher fee.

It starts at $5,000 a year and gradually decreases over time each year until it hits $1,500.

“They have received branding for their downtown. They have had a market study done,” Black said of Jasper.

The network member program is something of a preliminary program, Black said, noting it is “a way to date before you put a ring on it,” exposing that community to some of the resources. Carbon Hill joined as a network member in December.

A webinar is set for May 16 that city officials can listen into for free. She would also be available to work with the city’s new committee.

Organization will involve raising funds, getting volunteers and publicizing the community, Black said.

She reviewed projects in other cities. Arab sold wooden hearts that people could then paint and hang up across downtown in February. “It was a money maker for them, and they were able to put that into a project in Arab,” he said.

Heflin held a big homecoming weekend to celebrate past sports heroes. A major utility pole was used with lights during the holidays to simulate a Christmas tree.

“I said, ‘You should make that a huge spirit stick for homecoming weekend,’” she said. They used plastic tablecloths to carry it out, noting it is something that can be used to get people talking about the town.

Athens has an inexpensive project where people have painted rocks, hiding them in downtown. If you find a rock, you have your photo taken for a Facebook page and hide it again. She said the idea has taken a life of its own there, with churches and other groups participating.

Promotion involves events and businesses, arranging cooperative advertising and addressing negative perceptions in the downtown area. She said Hillfest could be addressed with the committee.

Athens had a negative perception that people didn’t want to walk in downtown at night, with few people seen exercising.

A pharmacy donated pedometers and cards were printed to show how walking around landmarks translated into a mile, encouraging people to walk downtown after 5 p.m.

She also described using ways to promote businesses, describing a program where gift certificates could be distributed at Hillfest, for example, and then cashed in at several businesses within a couple of weeks so people could see someone visiting the festival was coming back to the local businesses.

Black noted whimsical objects placed in some downtown areas to attract attention, such as a giant spider figure and even cartoon eyes hung on trees. “It makes you slow down and look, and wonder what is going on,” she said.

However, other cities have also used their committees to raise funds or donations to handle items such as downtown Christmas decorations and landscaping and planting trees along a corridor entering town.

Another goal is to strength the economic vitality of local businesses and even look at upper floors of buildings for housing and other needs.

Loft apartments are being constructed in second-floor structures in Russellville by that city’s mayor, she said.

“He’s got a waiting list of 20 and he hasn’t even put a ‘for sale’ sign up,” she said.

She noted in Athens one vacant building is leased out by the local program for a dollar a year, and is used as space for 10 artists — which is essentially like creating 10 jobs.

Black said students could paint a building in Carbon Hill, with someone donating the cost of the paint. If that is done a couple of times a year, the city will see a big difference.

She also suggested trees could be placed where the sidewalks are.

“Really, I encourage you to think about small projects. When you do the small projects and people start seeing things happen in your community, people want to get more involved,” she said, noting others from outside the community will also note the city seems to have community pride.

Officials said more on the topic of Main Street and revitalization may be said at the next council workshop on Monday, May 15, and the next council meeting on Thursday, May 11. Both meetings are at 6 p.m.