Downtown dreaming in Murfreesboro

Published 10:18 am Saturday, June 19, 2010

MURFREESBORO — Murfreesboro is in the running for the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Small Town Main Street program.

On Tuesday, DOC officials took a tour of Murfreesboro. The town is one of four eastern North Carolina communities in the running for one of three spots in the program.

“This is their initial visit to look at us and see if we qualify for the program,” said Mayor John Hinton.

Hinton was the guide for Small Town Main Street Coordinator for Eastern NC Bob Murphrey and Designer Stephanie Richardson.

Hinton said Murphrey and Richardson were particularly impressed with the town’s historic district and the fact that some structures dating back to the 1700’s.

After the tour, Murphrey and Richardson met with local officials and interested parties at the Elizabeth Sewell Parker Memorial Library to speak about the program.

Murphrey said the Main Street Center has been around since 1980 and strives to promote downtown revitalization based on economic development within the context of historic preservation. The concept was developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Murphrey noted that Main Street communities generally have a historic nucleus in town.

While the Main Street program aids larger communities, the Small Town Main Street program targets rural towns with a population under 7,500 that need development in their downtowns.

“We don’t bring any money, you just have us,” said Murphrey.

Instead of monetary help, DOC staff assists in finding resources in five areas, including organizational development, market analysis, business assistance, promotions and design.

Murphrey highlighted the key elements to making the program successful.

The first element Murphrey spoke about was organization and building partnerships to create a consistent revitalization program and develop effective management and leadership downtown.

“The community has to be willing to come together and be willing to work on it,” said Murphrey. “We help you, but we’re not going to do it for you.”

The program recommends diverse groups from the community including business owners, bankers, the chamber of commerce and civic groups.

Richardson spoke about the design element to enhance the visual quality of the downtown.

She said she noticed Murfreesboro had invested some money into the downtown area already, but also noticed the loss of buildings on one side of the street.

Something that the program encourages, Richardson said, is restoring buildings in order to allow them to retain their age appropriateness.

“You have to embrace what you have,” she said. “You have to look at and appreciate the timeframe of the building.”

The third element is promotion, reestablishing downtown as a compelling place for shoppers, investors and visitors.

“How are we bringing people to Murfreesboro,” asked Murphrey.

Promotion not only means improving sales, but rekindling community excitement and involvement. Promotion ranges from street festivals to retail merchandising to community education and marketing and public relations.

The final element Murphrey spoke about was economic restructuring which strengthens current economic assets of the business district while diversifying its economic base. Activities for this element include conducting a marketing analysis to understand the changing market place, adapting vacant buildings that have outlived their original purposes for use as entertainment or cultural facilities and sharpening the competitiveness of Main Street’s traditional merchants.

Since 1980, North Carolina Main Street downtowns have experienced a gain $1.4 billion in new investment, a net gain of 13,700 jobs, renovation of 3,300 buildings and a net gain of 3,300 businesses.

In 2007, Windsor was chosen for the Small Town Main Street program.