Main Street program offers Pickens shot at downtown rebirth

PICKENS — By the beginning of May 2011, Pickens’ City Administrator Katherine Brackett, having completed the application process, hopes to know whether or not the city was accepted as a Main Street Community.
“We have to first be accepted into Main Street and then we have to fund it,” Brackett explained.
Beyond acceptance and funding and above all else, the success of Pickens as a Main Street Community hinges on community support.
“It is absolutely essential that we have community buy-in,” said Brackett.
Those who missed the public press conference held at Pickens City Hall a few weeks back might be wondering just what being a Main Street Community entails.
Beppie LeGrand, Mainstreet Manager for the State of South Carolina, describes the Main Street program as “a citizen-driven economic development engine.”
In layman’s terms, the Main Street Program — established in the 1980s, born out of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and housed under the Municipal Association of South Carolina — is a program designed to empower citizens, in any given community, with the knowledge, skills, tools and organizational structure necessary to revitalize their downtowns, neighborhood commercial districts and cities into vibrant centers of commerce and community. In so doing, “We are committed to preserving the history and architecture of our communities,” said LeGrand.
The Main Street program works because it is comprehensive and based on simple, straight forward principles. It stresses self-reliance and builds on what is special about downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts as the center of the community. Additionally, it unites local people to work together to rebuild a positive image that will invite economic development.
Main Street Communities work to strengthen the economic base within their towns and cities. This is done through a four point model of Economic Restructuring (basically economic development) that includes — Economic Restructuring, Design, Promotion and Organization.
According to LeGrand, “That’s why the program is tried and true. You’re not just addressing part of your community. You’re not just focusing on economic development and you’re not just focusing on design and how you look. You’re focusing on economic development, design and how you promote your community. Each program point has a committee and that allows everyone to work together. It is a great grassroots approach to making your community a better place.”
Common misconceptions about the Main Street Program are that outsiders will enter the community and dictate how buildings should be painted, what types of trees to plant or what businesses can or can’t operate in the downtown area. LeGrand refuted these ideas.
“We don’t tell you what you have to do,” she explained. “We help you do what you want to do and what is going to be best for your community in terms of its economic growth and its physical appearance and its community spirit.”
Of course, there are various costs associated with becoming a Main Street Community. Start up cost for the first year, based on population, is $7,500. The fee for the second and third years drops to $5,000 annually. After the third year, a $3,000 per-year maintenance fee is required. Brackett said a director or coordinator would have to be hired to oversee the Main Street Program. While the position will likely be part-time, she estimated cost in the first year would be $20,000 to $35,000.
LeGrand said the first year of startup is very intense with a lot of training for each of the four committees and committee members, and if Main Street is structured as a non-profit with a board of directors, then the board members have to be trained as well.
“When we start this program, we ask for a three-year commitment from the community if you’re accepted in,” she said. “You’re not going to see significant change in that first year. That first year you are learning, training and getting committees together and working hard to build community support. The second year you begin working on plans for the future. Third year you start jumping off and really see that momentum building. From then on, it is just maintenance — keeping people interested. It is a process.”
The Main Street program itself can be structured in two different ways — as a non-profit entity separate from but partnered with the city; or it can be placed under the umbrella of the city. If Main Street is set up as a nonprofit in Pickens, it can be paid for with the hospitality tax. It would be a direct donation from the city to the nonprofit. However Main Street is structured, there must be government and community support to be successful.
There are concerns among city officials relative to how Main Street would be structured. Pickens Mayor David Owens believes that the Main Street program would be beneficial for the Pickens community, however, he wants to ensure that City Council and city officials have input and a say in what’s happening, whether it’s a nonprofit or under the city. There will have to be a positive, collaborative working relationship between Main Street and Pickens City Government.
In geographical terms, Main Street is defined as the core commercial district. Brackett hopes to broaden this area in Pickens.
“We really want to try to involve more than Main Street downtown,” she said. “We have the county museum that is just two blocks off of Main Street — we want to think much broader. We want to be able to help the town. We don’t want to create lines and boundaries.
“We want to support existing business. We want to recruit new business. We want to get people downtown, build a sense of business community, have that something extra to offer when people come in and look to locate a business here.”
Owens said officials are looking at an area that would include Main Street and surrounding areas in the central business district as well as properties fronting major arteries like U.S. 178 and State 183 farther from downtown.
Main Street South Carolina has 10 cities in the program, but LeGrand estimates that over the years it has probably had between 40 and 50 cities in the program.
“Main Street really does work hard to help support existing businesses and help existing businesses find ways to survive,” LeGrand said. “If Pickens is accepted into the program, we will be looking into what kinds of businesses can be recruited to Pickens that could be supported by the local community. Just because you want a show store doesn’t mean you can support a shoe store.”
Greater Pickens Chamber of Commerce Director Mike Parrott is supportive of the city’s application to the Main Street Program.
“When we’re talking about the Main Street concept in general, we’re really talking about investing in the future of Pickens,” Parrott said. “It helps with the future growth of the community and what we as a community want to become. It helps the business community. It brings expertise that we don’t have now. It gives direction and vision for where we want to go.”