By ED HOWELL
Daily Mountain Eagle
A little more than two years after Jasper Main Street was established, the program’s executive director uses his past theater education background to explain …
By ED HOWELL
Daily Mountain Eagle
A little more than two years after Jasper Main Street was established, the program’s executive director uses his past theater education background to explain how community support has boosted the success of the program.
“I couldn’t do it without these people,” Mike Putman said Wednesday. “It’s a collaboration. It’s partnerships. It’s not a one-man show. It is a multi-person show. It’s a full cast.”
Putman’s involvement has deepened his interest and commitment to Jasper as well, noting he has become close friends with other volunteers and enjoys seeing the newfound activity that is being seen in downtown Jasper. He emphasizes repeatedly how these energetic volunteers are also the engine that has contributed to the success of Main Street and downtown Jasper.
That has translated into his own success, as Putman was named a member of the Main Street Alabama Board of Directors for 2017. But his happiness and success come from the interaction he has in the area he promotes.
“I love these people,” he said. “I love walking downtown. I love walking in those restaurants. I love buying shoes at Rusty’s. Downtown has become a part of me, more so than I am a part of it.” He said some of his favorite days are intimate interaction on the street or in the restaurants, where one sometimes can’t eat until you “make the rounds” at the tables.
“This has been a good thing for Mike,” he said. “It’s kind of been a renaissance for me.”
Main Street’s encouragement can be seen in terms of Veterans banners that have been ordered to hang on light posts, as well as trees that will soon be planted downtown in phases.
However, figures also tell the story. According to Putman, since Main Street was created two years ago, $1.2 million in renovations and rehab projects have been undertaken downtown, as well as nearly $3.9 million in total real estate sales. This has resulted in 17 new businesses or business relocations, creating 78 new jobs. Main Street has also received more than $126,000 in grant funds for projects.
“The inception (of the program) was June 1, 2015,” Putman, 53, said in his office that Main Street leases on the bottom floor of the Jasper First Bank building. “I had just retired (in March 2014, after a 26-year career) from teaching high school theater in Corner in Jefferson County,” doing volunteer work with the Walker County Arts Alliance.
The family of his wife, Patricia, were from Walker County, so the family lives in the Farmstead area of Jasper. (Their son, Timothy Putman, lives in Birmingham and their daughter, Jessica Putman, lives in Parrish.)
Putman said in Young Jewelers one day after his retirement, store president Debbie Young Sanders suggested he help promote events for downtown. “I wasn’t interested in strictly promoting events,” he said.
One or two months later, he was in the store again when the topic of downtown revitalization arose.
“I said, ‘Now, that is totally different. I can get into downtown revitalization,’” he said.
Main Street Alabama, the state organization, said in a brochure it “focuses on bringing jobs, dollars and people back to historic Alabama communities. Economic development is at the heart of our efforts to revitalize downtowns and neighborhoods. We provide a tiered program of services to help communities organize themselves for success, improve the design of their neighborhoods, promote their districts and enhance their economic base.”
It went on the say that it offers training sessions and workshops on revitalization trends, tools and practices from across the nation, which can be implemented on the local level.
Putman toured Gadsden, which was already a strong Main Street city, and contacted the state Main Street program. He, Young, Dustin Beaty, Jackie Sparks and Dee Tuck all decided to apply for Main Street designation for Jasper.
“Dustin and Debbie really spearheaded funding. We got funding secured and we applied,” he said.
Putman said he cannot give enough appreciation to the Main Street Alabama staff for helping the local officials navigate the process and giving advice, including its president, Mary Helmer.
“They hold your hand. I mean, I’ve already talked to Mary today about something,” he said. “Mary will say, ‘Mike, that’s a great idea. That’s what you need to do,’ or ‘Mike, that’s a bad idea. Don’t do that.’” He said that comes from her experience being a local Main Street director in Kansas.
He notes the organization has a board of directors. After Putman, the president is Beaty, vice president is Jenny Brown Short, secretary is Pam Callahan, treasurer is Lisa Killingsworth and past president is Sanders. The fundraising consultant, a part-time official, is Brent McCarver. The board includes Tim Barger, Kathy Chambless, Angela Harris, Paul Kennedy, Barbara Brown Medders, John Nix, Bob Nolen, Sandy Prevost, Janie Wilson and Renae Mitchell Wilson.
Over the past two years, Putman said among his personal highlights was to get to know these people, which has led to close personal relationships and cooperation.
“We have a working relationship, but I am also personal friends with them, which is comfortable for me and I’m sure for them, too,” he said. Putman noted several times in the interview how the same people have helped him with personal needs and how he admires their talents.
“I admire Dustin’s brain for business. Debbie can sell ice to an Eskimo,” he said.
Moreover, he said after years of commuting to Corner and spending most of his time on work, he now has grown to have more appreciation for Jasper and its downtown.
Main Street is broken up into what is called the four-point approach: Design, Organization, Promotion and Economic Vitality, which leads to four committees.
“We have gone at a fast rate. Mary will tell you that,” he said. “At the same time, even our fast rate is incremental.”
He pointed out the Design Committee is responsible for the veterans banners and the planting of the trees, anything that can be seen, he said.
Putman noted Jasper Main Street’s first design initiative and one of its first big achievements was the Sgt. Jasper mural, funded by David Rowland and painted by Guin artist Missy Miles, who would go on to paint other murals downtown.
He said another initial highlight was when a business, Restorations, was courted to come downtown. “They bought into it. I knew they would. You know what is right and what is wrong for downtown. They were perfect for downtown,” he said.
Barbara Brown Medders leads the design committee, he said, noting she has also been instrumental in the tree and landscape plans for downtown.
“She and I have talked with our landscape architect. We’ve talked to the city. We’ve walked it. We’ve put trees on paper,” he said.
The current tree project was made possible by a grant from the CAWACO Resource, Conservation and Development Council and many generous private investors from the community.
The veterans banners, sold with images of past local veterans, “sold like hotcakes,” he said. “I only had 23 of those blue banners down there. I got 56” veteran banners. I had to get new poles made.” He noted Holly Trawick designed the new banners and is on that committee.
The Organization Committee is actually the board of directors, meaning that if something is wanted, it is taken to the Organization Committee — essentially, the board of directors, he said.
“The committees don’t act independent. The committees make suggestions. I take them to the board and the board either accepts them or rejects them,” he said.
The Promotion Committee, headed by Wilson, can involve purchasing ads through the Daily Mountain Eagle or publicizing through social media.
Also, the Economic Vitality Committee deals with bringing businesses downtown. In that respect, Putman notes that the committees’ work can overlap. “The trees are design — but trees are also a part of economic vitality because it makes a business want to come downtown. You have to have something beautiful to come to,” he said.
That committee is headed by McCarver, who is one of the most active in giving feedback and suggestions to Putman, he said.
“Brent wags me. I usually wag the committees, but he wags me, which is good,” he said, noting he and the committee have been active in trying to set up a entrepreneur class at Bevill State Community College.
McCarver was originally on the board of directors, but he resigned and is on the committee because he was hired and paid part-time as the group’s fundraising consultant to help raise funds.
“We’ve grown in that we have two employees now,” said Putman, who is a full-time employee.
He also pointed out the unique collaboration with a separate organization, Friends of Downtown Jasper. Jud Allen is the president, while Allison Medlock Jones iS vice president, Tana Collins is secretary, Danielle Goins is treasurer and Putman is an ex-officio officer.
While both groups are non-profit, a donation to Main Street, a 501(c)(6), will not yield a tax deduction under that group’s organization. A donation to Friends of Downtown Jasper, a 501(c)(3), is tax deductible, he said.
Putman noted the trees are really that group’s project, pointing out that Friends of Downtown Jasper look at the design workplans and say what they like or don’t like. The group then starts raising money for a project it does like, such as the tree project, which Putman said went well.
Phase 1 of that project, which is costing $11,000, will put trees from Fourth Avenue to Elliot Boulevard, he said, with 53 trees planted by the end of October or early November. Once people see the trees, fundraising will begin for the second phase before the end of the year. The second phase wil plant trees from Second Avenue to the Jasper Civic Center, he said. The third phase will follow the current sidewalk improvement plan. Putman said he was thankful to Mayor David O’Mary, City Planner Keith Pike, and City Engineer Joe Matthews, noting all have worked with Main Street closely to carry out the tree project. The city is also doing in-kind service in performing the actual planting of the trees.
He said he was also appreciative to the Jasper City Council and Main Street’s biggest donor, the Walker Area Community Foundation, which provides about a quarter of Main Street’s funding.