Downtown revitalization discussed at town hall

Published 11:28 am Thursday, May 16, 2013

The city of Demopolis welcomed guests to Rooster Hall on Wednesday evening to discuss the revitalization of downtown Demopolis.

John McClure, executive director of Meridian Main Street and co-founder of the Mississippi Main Street Association, spoke about his experience in revitalizing Meridian’s downtown and how Demopolis could do the same.

McClure said the Main Street program has a four-point approach, which includes organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring.

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The organization point involves getting a group of people together to work toward common goals. The promotion point is selling the image and promise of the Main Street program. The design point is getting the downtown area into top physical shape, and making it attractive. The economic restructuring includes strengthening the community’s economic assets while diversifying the economic base.

“The process of revitalizing a downtown is comprehensive and incremental,” he said. “It covers everything, but it takes time. The downtown didn’t fall apart over night, and it won’t come back overnight either. Partnerships are one of the most important parts of the program because none of this can be done without support.”

Mississippi Main Street has been active since 1985, but Alabama’s Main Street program has been dormant for a number of years, leaving many of Alabama’s downtowns without help. That program has now been restarted, and by 2014, they will begin accepting new cities into the program.

Cheryl Morgan, an architect and director of Auburn’s Urban Studio, and Bryan Parker, a board member of the newly restarted Alabama Main Street program, spoke about what Demopolis needs to do to begin the revitalization process.

Morgan said she has worked with numerous cities and towns in Alabama, including Linden, to help revitalize their downtowns.

“The process always starts with the assets of a town,” she said. “You have to know what makes your town special. You have to have a physical plan, and that’s where the Main Street program will help.”

Parker said that Alabama Main Street will not be accepting any new communities this year, as they are still trying to get everything started back up, but starting in 2014, they will be adding between two and five communities per year.

“If the downtown is exciting, it will draw people in,” Parker said. “The downtown is important for industrial recruiting, as well. They want to see a lively downtown before moving to a new community.”

Mayor Mike Grayson said Demopolis has a good foundation to build on.

“The wheels of change are beginning to turn,” Grayson said. “Demopolis is a good town. We aren’t perfect, but we have to keep working. We can’t quit.”