By NATHAN GREGORY
During their visit to Starkville Thursday, Mississippi Main Street Association board members found out why they made the city a member of the organization in 2010.
The board chose Starkville as its location to hold its annual retreat. Members conducted the first day of their annual meeting and toured the city to see progress that has been made since conducting a charrette for Starkville last year.
MMSA Executive Director Bob Wilson said city officials working in cooperation with the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, local businesses and Mississippi State University has helped the city thrive, particularly in recent years.
“We have 51 Main Street programs across the state. The ones that do well is where the stakeholders come together and really get it. You have the advantage of Mississippi State, which is a university that really gets community outreach, and you have a progressive board of aldermen and city supervisors,” Wilson said. “All those entities worked hand in hand with the goals and recommendations of the charrette process and how to implement those on a local level. It really helps us for the board to show them so they really know what can happen in a Main Street program.”
Wilson said Jennifer Gregory, GSDP vice president of tourism and chief operating officer, has been a key asset to implementing the branding and marketing suggestions in the charrette.
“Jennifer is very organized and savvy in social media and knows how to move these things along. The way she’s used social media ... to showcase events in Starkville has really been great.”
MMSA President-elect Barry Plunkett said Starkville has all the elements for a good model of a thriving main street.
“What Starkville has got to begin with is the real estate and geography for a great main street. You’ve got wonderful buildings. You’ve got a very thorough main street visual. The second thing you’ve got is the vitality that comes here with being the state’s college town, and then you’ve got all these enthusiastic people. It’s a perfect fit of a model for a main street,” he said. “I walked off Main Street and looked at some of the businesses a block and two blocks off, and those are the people you really need to engage in being a part of Main Street because they may not understand immediately the benefit for participating, but it will come to them if they participate.”
MMSA district director Jan Miller said city officials and developers are acting efficiently in giving reasons for out-of-towners to visit.
“I think what we’ve done is added some things to make people want to come and stay instead of driving to the football game and driving out. Because (Gregory and the GSDP Board of Trustees) are so insightful in thinking forward, they’ve gotten all these people to realize how important tourism is by staying open on Sunday for brunch during football season, (implementing) state-of-the-art signage,” she said. “There is a tremendous amount of activity going on here, and regionally I think Starkville really positions itself to be a very strong contender. (There is) a very strong downtown business association that was hugely instrumental and when they morphed into (MMSA), all the resources we offer, we were able to give through grants, and it’s made it 10 times better.”
MMSA Director of Asset Development Joy Foy said the city has the feel of a place where people would want to live.
“For the first time in all the years when I was up here going to college, you really feel a turn in the attitude of local people, and that to me means you’ve turned a corner. The rest of us from the outside can come in every now and then and we can have that feel of ‘Oh, things are good,’ but if the local people living here begin to see themselves in a higher light, that’s when (the city) has really succeeded,” Foy said. “To me, what Jennifer said (about bringing more activity to Starkville), it was things they already knew, but when the charrette team came to town and said it, that was verification things were on the right track. It’s hard if we’re locals to get a movement started because they all know us so well they think we don’t know anything, but if that expert comes from out of town and says the same thing you’ve been saying, all of a sudden it has viability.”
Members agreed although there is progress, there will always be areas where improvements can be made. Wilson said any thriving main street community realizes that process is constantly ongoing.
“Downtown revitalization is a never-ending process. Trends are always changing in marketing. You’re always looking for ways to enhance what you have,” Wilson said. “Starkville has a beautiful Main Street, and I think if you start working more on side streets and connecting them to Main Street, you’ll begin to see more activity. Those are not overnight fixes. It’s an incremental process.”
“You would love to come in and have new awnings everywhere instead of what’s been there a long time or paint what’s there. Just details,” Foy said, “but as women, when we go visit another town, where we ate and where we shopped is going to be how remember that town. You can offer both of those now, and at one time you couldn’t.”