After a week of fact-gathering and study, the N.C. Main Street Resource Team presented its findings to the public on Thursday night at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.
About 70 people, including city officials, community organization representatives, attended.
The program has a four-point, circular approach to the process of revitalization, said Liz Parham, a member of the team. Those include organization, promotion, design, and economic restructuring. “It all works together…it is also incremental and small projects build into larger programs. We can give you the tools and the resources, but at the end of the day we go back and it’s up to your community and leadership to get the job done.”
An example of cultivating private and public partnerships, a key to the process, was given by Sherry Adams, another team member — working with the local extension office to increase the use of locally-grown foods in downtown restaurants.
Adams said Mount Airy Downtown Inc. should recruit volunteers to serve as new committee members. She also suggested the use of volunteers to guide tours that highlight the history of the downtown area and the architectural features.
Watts said that promotion is essential, which is “selling a positive image based on existing authentic assets, with the purpose to promote downtown as a center of commerce, cultural, and commercial life for residents and businesses…the best ideas are always authentic, creative and market-driven…we want you to promote your assets and use your strengths that are unique to your area,” said committee member Teresa Watts.
“You already have image-building under way, with the Fiddle Crawl coming up, to raise awareness of public art in downtown. This speaks to the heritage of the community with old-time music, and it’s authentic, creative, and fun, and has potential leverage with other activities or partnerships — it’s all about keeping circular thought going,” Watts explained.
Suggested ideas included improving the physical appearance of the downtown area with buried utilities, having less or no traffic signals, creating a gateway which could be a “threshold to a special place” by adding a special sign, improving front and rear facades, and adding more landscaping and seating.
Another suggestion was to examine one-way traffic, which has several disadvantages, including moving people through downtown too quickly, it doesn’t support retail businesses, it is confusing for visitors, and higher speeds create safety issues.
“Retail business is increased on two-way streets. I’m not suggesting to change to two-way, I’m just giving facts. We experienced, heard, and saw that this week, it can be confusing…you could work to mitigate the disadvantages without changing the traffic flow. Slow traffic down, get people who are driving to notice the businesses, create more reasons for cars to stop…take out stoplights and install stop signs, but that is something you will have to work through with traffic engineers.”
Mount Airy’s downtown was commended by Parham for the landscaping, including “beautiful hanging baskets.”
Another suggestion was adding more public art, and creating a team of window-display experts who could assist businesses with interesting windows.
Committee member Lauren Malinoff showed the crowd historic postcards and photographs of downtown Mount Airy, which she said could be used as a promotional tool. “You have amazing, really amazing architecture” she said, while displaying photos of granite buildings downtown and interesting architectural details cut into the stone. “This is part of your cultural heritage, who you are as a people, and that is worthy of preservation.”
The back of the buildings could be improved, Malinoff added, with MAD’s facade grants available for improving rear facades, since parking lots are behind buildings. Alleyways and spaces between buildings were also mentioned as an opportunity to improve spaces, with a suggestion of lighting up alleys at night, to make people feel safer and invite them to pass through alleys on the way to downtown.
Blank walls and sides of buildings could be used as a space for murals and public art, Malinoff suggested.
Businesses could emphasize architectural details such as cornices with painting details. Transom windows are important, Malinoff said, because not every building needs an awning. “Let the light back into the storefront…we saw a lot of transom windows covered up, but they are an asset.”
Committee member Darren Rhodes spoke on zoning and policy issues to support downtown, and said he was “always inspired by the enthusiasm” in Mount Airy.
Zoning in the downtown area allows for upper-floor housing to be developed, and Rhodes added that the team interviewed and heard from people who would like to see higher-end residential living opportunities in upper floors of commercial buildings, with each added resident generating $6,000 to $8,000 in retail potential each year and up to $1,000 per month generated in rent for a loft-style apartment.
A written report will be issued by the team in the near future, and the team will be back to continue the planning process.
Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryJess.