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Morganton hosts NC Main Street Conference

By Bill Crabtree

“North Carolina Main Street” held its 24th Annual Awards Banquet in Morganton on January 29, capping a two-day conference that attracted “Main Street” officials from across the state, including several from North Carolina’s Public Power communities.

The North Carolina Main Street Program is a downtown revitalization effort based on economic development with an emphasis on historic preservation. The program is part of the Department of Commerce’s Division of Community Assistance.

Rodney Swink, director of the office of Urban Development for the state, said the night was designed to honor and acknowledge those who are dedicated to maintaining a quality of life through downtown revitalization and development.

Swink introduced Morganton Mayor Mel Cohen at the program’s outset and called him a “true champion of downtown development in Morganton and across the state.”

Cohen spoke about the first efforts over 20 years ago to revitalize downtown Morganton, which involved burying utility lines underground. Cohen said it was his first taste of public serve, and although he was a full-time salesman at the time, it wasn’t long before he took on a second job as the city’s first Main Street director.

“I must tell you,” said Cohen, “as much as I love the job of mayor, I’ve never done anything that was as much fun or as much of a challenge as leading the Main Street program in Morganton.”

North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Jim Fain was the evening’s keynote speaker.
He emphasized the value of attractive communities and commended the participant cities and towns for their dedication to the Main Street Program.

“We dare not let our center cities be anything less than a source of pride,” said Fain.

“A community’s downtown is the front porch of that town or city. It says a lot about the people who live there and what they’re willing to do.”

North Carolina Main Street has expanded from six original communities in 1980 to over 49 today. Over the last 20 years, these communities have enjoyed tremendous success in revitalizing their downtowns. Since 1980, they have seen nearly 2,500 buildings renovated, 10,000 new jobs created, and 4,300 new businesses opened. Total investment in these downtowns has been more than $540 million over the last two decades.

NC Main Street Assistant Director Meg Dees said the conference was well attended despite the ice and snow that blanketed much of the state in the days leading up to the event. She also had high praise for Morganton as the host city.

"We were all thrilled with the NC Main Street Conference and Awards Program this year,” said Dees. “We had participants from across North Carolina, as well as Virginia and South Carolina. The presenters were all well received and participants left the conference excited and ready to go home and work. Morganton was a wonderful example of a successful Main Street Program and was a great setting to hold the events."

The following Public Power communities were honored during the awards program:

Best Public-Private Partnership in Downtown Revitalization
Certificate of Special Recognition:
Loving Associates for Millside Manor, Morganton

Best Public Improvement: Cabarrus Arts Council, City of Concord and Concord Downtown Development Corporation for “Windows on Cabarrus,” Concord

Best Historic Rehabilitation Project: Bob Still for Former Shelby City Hall and Colonial Development, LLC for Mimosa Theatre, Morganton.
Certificate of Special Recognition: Mr. and Mrs. James Narron for Capital Department Store Project, Smithfield

Best Downtown Special Event: Uptown Lexington, Inc. for Pigs in the City Public Art Initiative 2003, Lexington.

Best Main Street Newsletter: Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc. for “The Downtowner,” Elizabeth City

Best Printed Promotional Item: Uptown Lexington, Inc. for Pigs in the City 2003 Poster, Lexington

At the program’s close, Main Street honored its “2003 Main Street Champions.” These are people from each Main Street city or town who have demonstrated a sincere love for their community and a tireless commitment to downtown revitalization.

Honorees from Public Power communities were Margaret Snyder, Albemarle; Leslie Cook, Concord; John Larry Sellers, Edenton; Rep. Bill Owens and Zack Robertson, Elizabeth City; Michael Cable, Farmville; Jack Murphy, Forest City; Phil McMullan, Hertford; Danny Nicholson, Sr., Lexington; Rosalind Welder, Lincolnton; Dawn Collins, Monroe; Mayor Mel Cohen, Morganton; Jim Hicks, New Bern; Neal Powell, Newton; Joe Henderson, Shelby; Tina Hobbs, Smithfield; Sheryl Toukola, Statesville; and Mark Clasby, Waynesville.