Visitors cite downtown’s potential

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 9, 2005

The leader of Mississippi Main Street Association said Tuesdaythat Brookhaven has laid a good foundation for possibleparticipation in the downtown development program.

Executive Director Beverly Meng and Bob Wilson visited withchamber of commerce and city officials Tuesday during a visit toexplore the possibility of the community joining the stateprogram.

“You have some of the prettiest architecture in the wholestate,” Meng told officials, citing one aspect of the communitythat could be promoted elsewhere.

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Cliff Brumfield, chamber executive vice president, and Mayor BobMassengill updated Meng and Wilson on their interest in the programand efforts already under way to improve downtown.

Brumfield acknowledged a number of building vacancies indowntown, but said officials did not want those to negativelyinfluence other businesses’ and developers’ decision to locatedowntown. He indicated that improvement is much more difficult whenthere are too many vacancies.

“It’s a lot harder to jump start this effort,” Brumfieldsaid.

To give Brookhaven a “unique look” at night, Massengill said hewould like to see lights similar to those on the Mississippi Schoolof the Arts campus along downtown streets and to remove overheadlights. He said it is too costly to bury power lines, but suggestedthe plan could be implemented one street a year.

The mayor also mentioned recent action to grant tax abatementsfor downtown improvements. A proposal would grant tax breaks basedon building improvements but also job creation.

“We want to give incentives to people for adding jobs downtown,”Massengill said.

Meng applauded officials’ plans to start with downtown. Withthat, she said communities will see results sooner and it issomething the whole town can embrace.

“The appearance of your downtown directly affects yourmarketability,” Meng said.

Meng discussed the four points of the Main Street program.

* Organization – would involve a partnership between city,county and private enterprises.

* Promotion – would address the image and marketing of thecommunity.

* Design – would involved developing a visual image of thecommunity. Meng said program architects would be able to provideassistance in the area.

* Economic restructuring – would help existing businessesupgrade or expand.

“You all have a lot of the foundation already in place,” Mengsaid.

Meng said there are 46 Main Street programs in place around thestate. Twenty-one communities are on the list to join Main Streetprogram.

Regarding costs, Meng said it would be $10,000 for the firstyear. She said the community would receive about $150,000 worth ofvarious services during that time.

“We would be in your face that first year,” said Meng,mentioning public meetings, training and other aspects of beginningthe program.

Second-year participation in the program would be $6,000, thethird year $4,000 and $2,000 for fourth and subsequent years.

Following a meeting at the chamber offices, officials toureddowntown and visited several shops. Meng and Wilson wereimpressed.

“There are a lot of opportunities to market your community,”Wilson said during a stop at The Posey Place.

The next step in the process will be an overview presentation byMain Street officials to the chamber’s board of directors, countyofficials and representatives of community organizations. RitaRich, who is part of the local effort, said the meeting is expectedto be held within the next two weeks.

“We want to get the word out and we want people to be excitedabout Main Street,” Rich said.