Strides made in addressing First Impressions suggestions

Published 6:00 am Thursday, January 7, 2010

Almost a year and a half ago, 11 people from various businessentities around the state toured Brookhaven with an eye towardstrengths and weaknesses.

The First Impressions program is just that – firstimpressions.

The team wandered through town noting everything from pedestrianfriendliness to numbers of cars versus parking spots. They came upwith a list of recommendations for city leaders interested inmaking Brookhaven a better city, and since then, projects havesprung up all over.

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“I think immediately after the presentation for asset mappingand the First Impressions report, the people there started doingthings, even just small things,” said Mississippi DevelopmentAuthority Regional Office Manager Trisha Webber. “Like paint. Youcan look at Monticello Street and the storefronts that have changed- that came about after the asset mapping presentation, that’s themain thing that you can see.”

Brookhaven Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive VicePresident Cliff Brumfield said in the year and a half since thereport there have been amazing strides made in several areas. He,too, pointed to the downtown rehabilitation efforts.

“Getting property owners to buy into rehabilitation andrejuvenation – we have had a large number of renovations,” he said.”2009 saw a tremendous investment in the downtown area, resultingin a more unified appearance in the central business district,which makes it more appealing to shoppers and business and propertyowners.”

Webber said that community involvement is one of Brookhaven’smost valuable assets. She was part of the team that did theassessment, but she is also a Brookhaven resident.

“I’m really proud of one distinct and definite asset we have,and that’s the people and leadership. Most communities don’t havethat,” she said. “We’re willing to work together to get thingsdone. The whole team of 10 or 15 people coming from around thestate … everybody got the same sense of togetherness fromeveryone they worked with in Brookhaven.”

The report also mentioned a need for more identifying signage,to let people know where they are when they enter the city.Brumfield pointed to the addition of two large ornate “Welcome toBrookhaven” signs added in 2009, one just past Exit 40 on HamptonDrive and one farther up Brookway Boulevard at the MississippiSchool of the Arts.

“They also talked about lighting downtown, and said that thewalkways were beautiful but could be improved,” Brumfield said.”Through our downtown lighting project, nicer lights were installeddowntown. They were already on the way but have since beeninstalled.”

Encouraging schools to try to attain a higher rating was also onthe list, as Brookhaven schools have been a class 3 under the oldratings. Superintendent Lea Barrett said Brookhaven ElementarySchool has placed in the High Performing category under the newsystem and Brookhaven High School has placed in the Successfulcategory.

“Alexander Junior High is where we are putting our most emphasisthis year,” she said. “We need to make sure we are presenting thecurriculum the state expects our children to master. We arerevising and reviewing our curriculum, and have hired some outsideconsultants to do outside recommendations and work on coaching andproviding assistance to our teachers.”

The group also said they thought the city would do well tobetter utilize the AMTRAK service, as the trains stop twice a dayin downtown Brookhaven. City officials have continued efforts toconstruct the Multi-Modal Facility at the old power plant onRailroad Avenue, and expect it to be finished by the end of2010.

And a general lack of skilled labor to attract industries to thearea was also detailed by the report. Brumfield said Copiah-LincolnCommunity College is working to correct that problem by addingseveral new programs.

“One thing there is the great strides made by Co-Lin in trainingfor existing and new business industries and smaller ones,” hesaid. “They offer computer training programs and customer servicetraining programs they’ve been able to create, and this has becomesomething many local employers rely on.”

Team members were impressed by the visibility of local lawenforcement, Brumfield said, adding that the new police station onHighway 51 just reinforces that public awareness.

In the immediate future, Webber and Brumfield will be going overthe report again to find what else needs to be done.

“For my job I have a checklist of these things in all ourcommunities, and these are the things we want to touch base on,”Webber said. “Asset mapping is one of them. Cliff and I will gothrough things that were on there, and say do we still need to workon this or that.”

Brumfield said the First Impressions Program will be invited tocome back and reassess Brookhaven, even in the light of the ongoingimprovement.

“The chamber would like to have a second First Impressions visitin 2010 to not just take note of improvements made, but to identifymore areas to work together to further improve our area,” Brumfieldsaid.