LAURINBURG — Daniel Walters thinks the Main Street America program is a pretty big deal for Laurinburg. And he should, since he’s the recently hired downtown development coordinator for the city.
That essentially means he will be heavily involved in all of the benefits the program will bring.
On Tuesday, Walters shared those potential benefits with the Laurinburg Rotary Club through a power-point presentation that included a history of the Main Street America program and what it will mean for the city.
“Only 5 percent of the cities in North Carolina have been designated a part of the program,” Walters said. “That puts us in a special class — and shows that our vision is a solid one.
“Being a part of Main Street America is an honor that only a select amount of communities achieve,” he added. “With this comes branding and marketing opportunities that will greatly benefit the city.”
Since 1980, when the Main Street America program began, North Carolina communities in the program have seen $2.5 billion in new investment in those downtowns, more than 5,500 new businesses and more than 22,000 new jobs.
Walters thinks those numbers bode well for Laurinburg — but he also knows there is hard work ahead, and it will take everyone.
“It takes a community to build a community,” he said. “We also appreciate that we are only as strong as our neighbors and partners.”
One of the main focuses of the Main Street Program is to stimulate economic development in the context of historic preservation, and Walters said the program also creates an ongoing partnership with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for design projects.
“That can include such things as facades and awnings, etc,” he added.
He told the Rotarians the program uses a four-point approach — organization, promotion, design and economic vitality.
“Each aspect includes key ingredients to a thriving downtown,” Walters said.
He added that a Downtown Advisement Committee has been put in place to assist with the direction the program takes in Laurinburg. Walters is the liaison between the city and the downtown group.
Asked how Laurinburg’s downtown will be promoted, Walters told the group that was being worked on.
“We aren’t like other downtowns; we’re very unique here,” he said. “We are in the process of finding our niche, which means asking ourselves what is different about Laurinburg.”
The path to being designated a Main Street American location was a long journey before the designation was announced on July 1.
“It truly has been a long process,” said Rotarian Drew Williamson, who also serves as a city councilman. “Often it was two steps forward and one step back, sometimes it was one step forward and two back.”
Now that it is a Main Street America downtown, the city has started a Facade Grant Program with a dollar match for exterior enhancement and repairs for downtown buildings. There are also grants available through the CDBG Downtown Redevelopment Fund ad the Main Street Solutions Fund. Walters said each are designed to return vacant buildings into usable space for new businesses and jobs.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-506-3023 or [email protected]