As of July 1, Laurinburg is officially a designated NC Main Street Community. This is a huge step for downtown in the revitalization process.
The NC Main Street & Rural Planning Center is a Main Street America™ Coordinating Program and works to stimulate economic development within the context of historic preservation, using a comprehensive approach to downtown revitalization. Since 1980 when the program began, Main Street communities in North Carolina have had over $2.5 billion in new investment in their downtowns, a net gain of over 5,500 new businesses and a net gain of over 22,000 new jobs.
Downtown Laurinburg is a creative environment that is planting seeds for new businesses, growing existing businesses and harvesting the fruits of community entrepreneurship, enhanced by our ethnic diversity, agricultural heritage, storytelling and the arts. This business growth has established downtown as the location of choice for quality retail, service, residential and educational establishments in Scotland County. This position has been established and will continue to push the plan of work forward to achieve the goal of downtown revitalization.
The Main Street Program focuses on a four-point approach that is organized into an Implementation Plan. Each aspect has key ingredients to a thriving downtown. The four aspects are defined as follows:
— Organization: Building partnerships to create a consistent revitalization program and develop effective management and leadership downtown. Diverse groups – merchants, bankers, public officials, the chamber of commerce and civic groups – must work together to improve downtown.
— Promotion: Reestablishing downtown as a compelling place for shoppers, investors, and visitors. This means not only improving sales but also rekindling community excitement and involvement. Promotion ranges from street festivals to retail merchandising, from community education to marketing and public relations.
— esign: Enhancing the visual quality of the downtown. Attention is given to the downtown environment elements – not just buildings and storefronts but also public improvements, rear entries, signs, landscaping, window displays and graphic materials.
— Economic Vitality: Strengthening the existing economic assets of the business district while diversifying its economic base. Activities include conducting market analysis to understand the changing marketplace, adapting vacant buildings that have outlived their original purposes for use as entertainment or cultural facilities and sharpening the competitiveness of Main Street’s traditional merchants.
The North Carolina Main Street Center staff guide participating communities through a strategic planning process, board development, volunteer development and downtown manager training.
A Downtown Advisement Committee is in place made of individuals from both the private and public sectors, including downtown business owners. In addition, with the goal of becoming a Main Street Community in mind, the city hired me in 2017 as the downtown development coordinator to serve as a liaison to downtown and to help foster the promotion and economic development of downtown Laurinburg.
Being a part of Main Street is an honor that only a select amount of communities achieve. With this achievement comes branding and marketing opportunities with Laurinburg now able to use Main Street trademarks on material designed to promote the work of the downtown program. Designated NC Main Street communities are eligible to receive statewide recognition through the North Carolina Main Street Awards and Main Street Champions programs. Main Street Programs are also available to receive publicity through NC Main Street’s press releases, newsletters, annual reports, presentations and social media sites.
Promotions are geared towards getting people downtown for events, sales events, etc. Partnerships are in place to build upon current events and to possibly have new events downtown such as Laurinburg After 5 and the FUNd Run moving downtown. A website dedicated to downtown is being created with staff continuing to add information for downtown and refining the look of the site. This site, www.downtown-laurinburg.com along with the Downtown Facebook, will be used for general information on downtown, to highlight events, sales, and much more.
NC Main Street staff also assist with design exploration and approval. This includes free building exterior design recommendations with design specialist at the UNC-Greensboro School of Interior Architecture. A Main Street Forum is available as well to communicate with other downtowns for ideas/issues with design or any aspect of the Main Street Program. Design also includes Wayfinding (Signage), Displays, and Public Spaces such as the Art Garden and Walk through Downtown.
Main Street communities receive assistance in the development of asset-based economic strategies that have a positive impact on investment and job creation. When available, Main Street communities are eligible to apply for grants specifically for NC Main Street Programs.
Currently, the City has a Façade Grant Program that offers a dollar match on a sliding scale for exterior enhancements/repairs for buildings in the downtown district. Some of the grants available to Main Street Programs include the CDBG Downtown Redevelopment Fund and the Main Street Solutions Fund, which are designed to return vacant buildings into useable space to allow for new businesses and job creation.
Thank you for the continued hard work of everyone involved. This is a key piece in the journey to revitalizing our historic downtown.
Daniel Walters is the downtown development coordinator for the city of Laurinburg.