A team with the N.C. Main Street Center is visiting Clinton throughout this week to research and evaluate issues and opportunities in the downtown, with the goal of presenting recommendations on Thursday for increasing economic vitality in Clinton’s central business district well into the future.
The team, which includes staff members from the state’s Main Street program, Small Town Main Street program and N.C. Arts Council, will make recommendations in each of the focuses of the Main Street “Four Point Approach” — organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring.
Operating out of the Urban Development Division in the Department of Commerce, the N.C. Main Street Center provides technical assistance, guidance, training and networking as part of a comprehensive approach to downtown revitalization. As one of six states selected for the Main Street pilot program in 1980, North Carolina now has more than 60 designated Main Street communities — Clinton is celebrating its 30th year as one.
Part of that process, resource teams were developed to quickly assess a Main Street community’s downtown problems and opportunities and to provide a variety of ideas and strategies for its downtown revitalization effort. That includes an intense four days spent meeting with a cross section of community members, participating in group interviews, touring the downtown area and conducting independent research.
“This is a fast process, but we’ve done a lot of these,” said Liz Parham, director of Urban Development and N.C. Main Street. “We really know what we’re looking for and what we’re looking at.”
The team began that work late Monday and was expected to continue through Thursday leading up to its presentation. That meeting is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, July 12, at the Clinton City Hall Auditorium. The public is encouraged to attend.
“We’ll report what we identified as opportunities and then offer a series of recommendations, and also follow that back up about a month from now with a written report that will be a blueprint for moving forward,” said Parham. “The resource team recommendations are a good 3 to 5 year’s worth of recommendations, so it’s not something that can be done tomorrow or even next year.”
Parham said training has been done with members of local committees, which are still being formed. A series of interviews was slated for Tuesday and Wednesday with city and county employees and managerial staff, downtown business owners and property owners, along with City Council, Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Sampson History Museum and Sampson Arts Council representatives, among others.
Team members will come back in late summer and in the fall to break recommendations down to an annual work plan, and make sure there are budget dollars to address those areas. Parham noted “an extensive grant resource guide” that could assist Main Street communities like Clinton.
“We can always come back each year and do an annual plan with the board and the staff, to make sure it’s moving forward in a real strategic manner,” said Parham. “We do recommendations in all four points of Main Street. When you talk about what other communities have done, they’ve taken those recommendations and moved them forward in their towns. We want it to be unique, so we’ll look at your mix of buildings, mix of businesses, the people and the resources that you have in Clinton, and we’ll make those recommendations based on that.”
Members of the Clinton resource team, in addition to Parham, include Lauren Malinoff, Urban Development designer; Bob Murphrey, eastern N.C. Small Town Main Street program coordinator; Sherry Adams, western N.C. Small Town Main Street program coordinator; and Brendan Greaves, director of Public Art and Community Design for the N.C. Arts Council.
With three phases of downtown revitalization having already transformed the city square and surrounding area, and a public art project to boot, Clinton-Sampson planning director Mary Rose said the goal of working with the resource team was to receive guidance and a comprehensive program to follow for future improvement and development.
“This group is here to take a snapshot of Clinton and then advise us,” said Rose. “What we are trying to do is focus more on our organization, volunteers, committees and more planning — so we can get the community more involved in the future vision we have for downtown Clinton.”
Rose said there would also be a focus on education, not just on the downtown development and events, but historical preservation and public art. The goal is to recreate the Main Street program by getting more people involved.
“We want to focus more on educating our citizens and our community and our county and having ways to provide our citizens of Clinton and Sampson County cultural opportunities and opportunities for entertainment here within our county instead of leaving.”
“Wayfinding,” such as signage that directs visitors to points of interest, downtown logo and branding and website development were priorities for Clinton.
“All these things are on our wishlist of things to do for downtown Clinton, we just have not gotten there yet,” said Rose. “We’re looking at this as kind of a kick-off to that organization. It’s not that we’ve done things bad in Clinton. We’ve done several things very well, just with limited staff time and resources. For a long time, it’s mainly just been city staff doing the Main Street program with not a lot of outside input from citizens and volunteers.”
She pointed at the annual Court Square Street Fair, annually organized by the city’s planning staff of five people and four Public Works employees. “That’s nine city employees, with no volunteers, that have pretty much done the Street Fair and Barbecue Cook-Off, which is our biggest event in the downtown over the years. We want more volunteers so we can focus our staff energies on other aspects like grants and other things that are being put to the side.”
Between the recent Economic Vision Forum and committee training, Rose said she is pleased with the many in the community who have shown interest. Resource team members said public input and participation is key in shaping recommendations and goals for the future.
“What we’re going to be looking at is to take existing projects and opportunities for new projects, and look at what the vision is for downtown and how to enhance those,” said Parham. “It really has to make sense and be unique to Clinton. That’s what it’s really about. We’re looking for opportunities, what they feel is important for downtown, what is a detriment for downtown, the problem areas we need to be addressing — what works and doesn’t work..”
“And what they want to see,” said Malinoff.
Impressions of Clinton
First impressions are everything, and the team said they are vastly impressed with the cleanliness of the town and the new public art piece, with team members calling it “one of the nicest” they have seen.
Malinoff recalled coming to Clinton in 1985. She said the change is remarkable.
“I was very impressed with the public improvements that have been made, and it is amazingly clean,” Malinoff noted. “Some of our towns, we go in and there’s just trash on the street, trash in the display windows. You can tell nobody has taken care of it. Just the fact that it is immaculate tells us something about your community.”
“That’s the most fundamental basic,” added Parham. “If you can’t make sure the trash is picked up, how can you improve a facade or a building?”
Greaves, who worked closely with the city of Clinton officials and the Arts Council to secure grant funding needed for the “Milling Around” public art piece at the College Street Park, said the arts, in addition to its obvious aesthetic value and historical significance, can do wonders for the economy.
“One of our big focuses at the Department of Cultural Resources in recent years has been on the way in which arts and cultural assets and amenities can have a beneficial impact on local economies in terms of both bringing cultural tourism to the area and also attracting new business investments,” said Greaves. “I think part of what I’m looking for is helping folks here develop an identifiable brand as far as their arts and culture and history — why is Clinton different, and why wouldn’t folks want to move here or visit? That’s really critical.”
Malinoff said the “Milling Around” piece is already a huge boon to the design aspect, and could provide an economic spark if properly promoted.
“That piece is going to be such an amazing draw once it is promoted,” said Malinoff. “That is something that you would see in New York or London. It would be stunning in Asheville. We don’t have anything that beautiful. I’m not sure (people) realize how unique and authentic it is. That is your history.”
Parham noted the vast improvements made in Clinton in recent years and, like the other team members, also said there were areas where improvements could be made. With city staff and public help, Parham said the team was ready to lay down the framework for more big things.
“Clinton has a lot of history with our program and has done some tremendous projects,” said Parham. “They’re really looking to build more of a comprehensive program, and that’s really what we’re here to do — to help Clinton meet their goals.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.