12/07/08 — Mount Olive Small Town group looking for more input, members

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Mount Olive Small Town group looking for more input, members

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 7, 2008 2:00 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The revitalization of the west side of the 200 block of North Center Street is the most visible sign of the Small Town Main Street group's support of efforts to help spark a renewed life and interest in downtown.

However, there are other, less obvious and mostly free advantages to being one of the four initial towns in the program -- advantages chairman Stephanie Kornegay and the group are working to promote.

Complementing those efforts is the group's desire to find out what downtown merchants, as well as the public, want it to pursue in its vision for the town.

"We ask that they join us and be active," she said. "We want to be sure we are doing what they want us to do. When we listened two years ago, what people said they wanted were more restaurants, and I think they were right."

Ms. Kornegay said the group wants to bring more activities and excitement to the downtown area.

Also, being four years into the program, the group wants to assess where it is at and the direction it is taking.

"We want to reenergize people downtown and to get them excited about what we have done and the direction to go forward," she said. "We are looking for new committee members, people willing to assume leadership roles."

The program has it roots in the Main Street program for larger cities.

That program "worked quite well," Ms. Kornegay said and the N.C. Department of Commerce decided to offer a similar one to smaller towns. Mount Olive was one of the first to sign up about four years ago.

The Mount Olive program deals with a very specific area -- the combined six blocks that comprise the downtown area.

Its purpose is to evaluate the area's strengths, weaknesses and what kind of businesses work in the area.

When it launched, there were 17 vacant buildings in the downtown area. That number has gradually fallen to three or four, she said.

Small Town Main Street carries out its planning through three subcommittees: economic restructuring, design and promotions.

The work along the 200 block of North Center Street falls into the design committee's goals.

"What can the town do to make itself more appealing to outsiders as a way to attract visitors," Ms. Kornegay said. "Finally that (project) is being done. This is a big project."

The town received a grant for the project that has been delayed for several years. The first snag was obtaining a right-of-way easement from CSX Corp. railroad. It was further delayed when the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources stepped in to review the project because it is in the town's historical district.

Work, though, began in September and is now ahead of schedule and could come in under budget, she said.

Another project the group wants to look at are options for using the space the old White's store used to occupy.

Promotion is another important facet of the group's work.

Members are working with the Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce and town on such projects as the recent Holiday Open House as well as efforts to renovate the old depot and to secure a new location for Steele Memorial Library.

"We want to know what the people want such as the Holiday Open House or business-after-hours entertainment," she said. "We have been in the program four years, and we want to know what do we need to do now. One thing we need to be able to do is fundraise. We can't do everything for nothing."

But there are low-cost, or free, advantages to being part of the program.

For example, through the N.C. Department of Commerce, merchants can take advantage of help in preparing financing and loan packaging and in the logistics of running a business.

"There are people there at the Department of Commerce to help them," Ms. Kornegay said. "The lead contact is Bob Murphrey (Small Town Main Street coordinator, Eastern North Carolina)."

An annual convention to be held in January in Statesville will offer a variety of seminars.

"They (seminars) are helpful to businesses," Ms. Kornegay said. "You get to sit in a room full of people who are successful or who have faced the same challenges you have."

Mount Olive College is an important part of life in the town and it is vital to work to connect the college with the downtown area, she said.

The college has been "fantastic" working with the committee, Ms. Kornegay said.

For more information about the program, contact Ms. Kornegay at 658-9404, Town Manager Charles Brown at 658-9537 or Bob Murphrey at 218-2934 or e-mail him at rmurphrey@nccommerce.com.