‘Vision’ sought for downtown Mount Airy

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

October 3, 2013

Those with a stake in the city’s downtown area are advised to circle Nov. 19 on their calendars.

That is the date of the Downtown Mount Airy Community Economic Vision Forum, to be held at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History from 6:30 to 9 p.m. It will provide residents, business owners, property owners and community leaders an opportunity to participate in shaping long-range plans for the central business district.

“The goal is to get the community to write a vision statement for the next five years for downtown Mount Airy,” Main Street Coordinator Lizzie Morrison said Wednesday.

Morrison recently became coordinator as part of Mount Airy rejoining of the North Carolina Main Street Program after about a 20-year absence, as a way to help ensure the long-term viability of an already thriving downtown area.

Plans for the Nov. 19 forum are coming on the heels of a “reconnaissance” visit by directors from the North Carolina Main Street Center of the state Department of Commerce, which spanned two days last week.

It launched activities to begin building and broadening a base of support for a downtown-revitalization effort. North Carolina Main Street staff members conducted initial interviews with city elected officials and members of the downtown community.

The goal of the interviews, led by Liz Parham, director of the Office of Urban Development for the Department of Commerce, was to evaluate what Mount Airy hopes to accomplish through the Main Street Program.

Steve Yokeley, a member of the city board of commissioners, was among those participating in the interview process, and said he believes the Main Street Program will help the city increase tourism and become more prosperous.

Building Awareness

Morrison indicated Wednesday that one of the goals at this point is spreading the word about the new initiative under way downtown.

“A lot of people don’t understand what the Main Street Program is,” she said.

It is designed to stimulate economic development within the context of historic preservation. This is accomplished through a comprehensive four-point approach to downtown revitalization developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and used by the National Trust Main Street Center to assist communities across the country.

The Main Street four-point approach is an all-inclusive regenerative process designed to improve all aspects of a downtown, producing both intangible and tangible benefits. The concept is based on combining organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring to create a successful and well-balanced community.

Upcoming Forum

In announcing plans for the Downtown Mount Airy Community Economic Vision Forum at the museum on Nov. 19, Morrison said Parham, of the Department of Commerce, will serve as facilitator. But the “heavy lifting” during the forum/workshop will be done by the local stake-holders.

“The goal overall is to have 75 to 100 participants,” Morrison said of efforts to have the downtown vision updated through broad community representation. In addition to business or property owners, this can include arts and cultural groups, the educational community, civic organizations, city public works and safety officials, real estate agents, bankers and others.

They will be broken into small groups to identify strengths and weaknesses and offer suggestions about what they would like to see downtown Mount Airy become on a long-range basis.

“Sustaining downtown Mount Airy as the strength of our community will have to be a collaborative effort from the people of Mount Airy who benefit from our healthy downtown,” Morrison added.

She said Wednesday that among the key issues surrounding the central business district are parking availability, which has been somewhat alleviated by the recent building of a lot on Virginia Street, and moving utility lines underground for aesthetic purposes.

Morrison said the appearance of downtown Mount Airy also could be enhanced by the presence of more public art such as murals and sculptures.

In addition to being staffed by Morrison, the Mount Airy Main Street Program is managed by the governing board of Mount Airy Downtown Inc. — the successor organization to DMI (Downtown Mount Airy Inc.).

Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or