Last updated: April 07. 2014 3:45PM - 707 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentThe 'Milling Around' art piece at the peak of College Street was an integral part of the Downtown Revitalization Phase III project recently recognized by the N.C. Main Street Program, which bestowed an award of merit for city officials for the project.
Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentThe 'Milling Around' art piece at the peak of College Street was an integral part of the Downtown Revitalization Phase III project recently recognized by the N.C. Main Street Program, which bestowed an award of merit for city officials for the project.
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The City of Clinton and its “visionary leaders” have been honored at the state level for the tremendous strides made in recent years to improve the downtown, including the implementation of a freestanding art piece and a massive overhaul of the old county jail site.

Clinton Mayor Lew Starling and the Clinton City Council were recognized as 2013 Main Street Champions at the North Carolina Main Street Annual Awards Ceremony in New Bern last Tuesday, April 1. None were in attendance as the City Council’s regular meeting was held the same night last week, however they will be presented the award and honored next month.

The City of Clinton was the winner in the category of Best Outdoor Space Improvement, receiving an Award of Merit for its Downtown Phase III, one of 17 such awards bestowed to winning projects.

N.C. Main Street is a downtown revitalization program for smaller towns based on economic development within the context of historic preservation. The program, which provides technical assistance to its communities, is part of the Office of Urban Development in the Department of Commerce’s Rural Economic Development Division.

The North Carolina Main Street program began in 1980 with five participating cities and has since grown to include 61 communities across the state. Established as part of N.C. Main Street’s 20th anniversary celebration, the Main Street Champion designation acknowledges the extraordinary efforts of those persons who have played pivotal roles in the revitalization of their downtowns, with specific recognition to four areas of focus for Main Street: organization, design, economic restructuring and promotion.

Each of the state’s active Main Street programs is given the opportunity each year to recognize a local champion, which are then considered as part of the statewide awards.

In recommending the mayor and City Council, the Clinton Main Street Program, headed up by Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose, lauded their support of all three phases of downtown Clinton’s revitalization projects.

From the 2002 Court Square Revitalization Project, winner of a 2003 North Carolina Main Street Award for Best Public Improvement, to the 2013 Clinton Phase III downtown revitalization project, which featured the community’s first public art installation, a 175 square-foot hand-painted glass wall, entitled “Milling Around,” they have offered that support.

“Mayor Starling and the City Council recognized that public investment in downtown infrastructure generates private investment. With the completion of each project phase, the return on that investment was realized as new businesses located in downtown and existing businesses undertook interior and exterior renovation work,” the Clinton Main Street statement read. “The support exhibited by Mayor Lew Starling and the Clinton City Council has encouraged further support from downtown business and property owners as well as the citizens. Clinton is indebted to these visionary leaders for their commitment to downtown.”

The N.C. Main Street voting committee agreed.

“They are a glass half full kind of people – the type that recognizes the possibilities in their downtowns and strives to make those possibilities reality,” said Liz Parham, Office of Urban Development director. “Main Street Champions are the believers, the doers, the backbone of a successful revitalization effort that has brought new jobs, new businesses and a renewed spirit of vitality back to the heart of the community in small cities and towns throughout North Carolina.”

The third phase of downtown revitalization officially started in March 2011, bringing a facelift from the base of Vance Street to the tip of College Street. The total area covered in the project included Vance Street from Sampson to Beaman streets, encompassing the old jail site, and extending up to Connesstee Street, from College to Vance.

Utility and sidewalk work was completed on Connesstee, College and Vance, off which the existing parking lot was resurfaced and another, at the old jail site, added. The entire area received new brick sidewalks and a broken concrete wall along the College Street parking lot gave way to a stone veneer wall that now lines new sidewalks running up toward the heart of downtown. Similar walls were placed along Cattail Branch and Connesstee Street.

A small park area was integrated into the College Street lot, where green space was implemented and “Milling Around,” a nod to Sampson’s heritage that incorporated a millstone motif, was installed.

That public art, a years-long process in itself, was an idea developed by a grassroots public art committee, which underwent a thorough process from which Maryland-based artist Heidi Lippman was selected to design, fabricate and oversee the installation of the art. Along the way, nearly $140,000 was obtained from grants by the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as private donations, to full shoulder the full cost with no city funds used.

The piece was dedicated in May 2012. Parham said projects like Clinton’s show the best of what state communities have to offer.

“North Carolina Main Street and Small Town Main Street Awards represent some of the very best revitalization work taking place in our state … these award-winners are outstanding examples of partnerships, innovation, quality and sustainability and serve as models for other small towns and cities throughout North Carolina,” she said.

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.

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