Except for a recently restored Coca-Cola mural there, an alleyway in downtown Mount Airy is just your typical passageway — but ambitious plans are under way to turn it into a community gathering spot.
Using a $20,000 state grant and $4,000 in local matching funds, two local organizations have targeted the alleyway at 175 N. Main St. for a wide range of amenities designed to provide seating and a place for musical performances, along with other enhancements.
“We think it will really be good for downtown,” Justin Puckett, a representative of the group Mount Airy Professionals of Surry (MAPS), told the city board of commissioners during a presentation on the project at a meeting last Thursday.
Puckett was there along with Lizzie Morrison, Main Street coordinator with Mount Airy Downtown (MAD) Inc., which is partnering with MAPS on the effort.
It is part of an overall plan to revitalize the downtown area to help attract young professionals and future business leaders there.
“One of MAD’s goals is to upfit our alleyways downtown,” Morrison said, explaining that this is part of a larger objective to make the city’s central business district “more livable” for the so-called millennial generation. That is defined as persons who reached young adulthood around the year 2000, although the downtown group wants to create more gathering places for people of all ages.
“The last time I counted, we had about 20 millennial entrepreneurs working downtown,” Morrison said, which is thought to be the most per capita of any city participating in the N.C. Main Street Program. In recent years it has totaled about 60 communities.
Yet work is just part of the downtown equation — there also must be something to entice people to spend time there after the business day is done, which is where the new alleyway improvement project comes into play.
The site at 175 N. Main St. is a key location, a passageway that links the street to a large public parking lot on Franklin Street.
Preliminary designs, as presented to the commissioners, call for the project to include a small two-tiered stage located directly under the Coke mural, which would allow space for one or two musicians to entertain pedestrians.
While there is now only one bench in the alleyway, the redesign features multiple areas for seating as well as tabletop surfaces. The revamped alley would provide a place for visitors to sit, eat or relax.
Landscape plantings and public art displays would add to the surroundings.
To make the concept a reality, Mount Airy Professionals of Surry is devoting an entire $20,000 grant it received from the N.C. Rural Center to the project. Mount Airy Downtown is supplying $4,000 on top of that as a required 20 percent match for the grant.
It is hoped that their partnership leads to improvements for other downtown alleyways.
“We just want to leave a legacy,” Morrison said.
Along with being briefed on the project, Mount Airy officials were asked to give their approval for the work, since it involves city property.
The commissioners did so unanimously.
“I just want to thank you for what you are doing,” the board’s Dean Brown told Puckett and Morrison.
Other council members agreed.
“I’m excited about this project,” said Commissioner Jon Cawley.
“I have walked through there hundreds of times and thought it was nice,” Cawley said of the alleyway. “And this (project) will be great — you have my blessing.”
The council’s Jim Armbrister and Steve Yokeley also were supportive.
“I do appreciate your hands-on approach,” Armbrister told the two presenters.
“I just want to thank you for taking the initiative in planning such an awesome project,” said Yokeley.
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley also was in favor of the effort, especially after gaining an assurance that it will require no municipal funding.
Morrison said the only involvement by city government has been design and other assistance by city staff members and the Benchmark firm that is contracted to provide planning services for the city.
“Because we have never upfitted an alley before,” Morrison explained.
The project is expected to begin in August and be completed by the end of December.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.