Our best foot forward

Published 8:30 am Monday, February 25, 2013

I’ve been here more than a year now and for the first nine months there wasn’t much growth or activity at all.

I attended the Buxton Group meetings and became fired-up about the possibility of some new businesses coming to Ahoskie. And then there seemed to be this long lull with little or no news about our Buxton investment.

I’m again rejuvenated and excited about our recent growth spurt. Abrams Barbecue and Seafood recently opened; Walgreens opened on Friday, and the Walmart Supe rCenter is due to open later this year. There are rumors of a new strip mall coming near the new Walmart site.

There is a buzz about a nationally known supply store moving in to the old Walmart building once they move.  Other new fast food restaurants are rumored to be coming to town as well as a major gas and fueling station.

I must say this is awesome news for our town. However, despite the recent growth we still face a rapidly declining Main Street in Ahoskie. The Main Street of small town America is the heartbeat of any community. One only has to ride through Ahoskie’s downtown district to witness the dilapidated and abandoned buildings that sit along Main Street like relics from the past.

There are towns in our area, some only a stone’s throw away, that have a bustling downtown area, full of successful gift shops, shoe stores, restaurants, antiques shops and more. What have they done different than us? Small local businesses are fundamental to a community. Each small business makes our town a special place live, work and play.

Recently, Ahoskie offered the annual Façade Improvement Program to assist property and business owners located within the Downtown Business District Area (DBDA) boundary to undertake storefront or building front improvements. These improvements can range from minor repairs and painting to substantial façade renovations on buildings used for commercial or office purposes.

The goal of the program is to encourage well-designed improvements, restore significant architectural elements of the structure, and coordinate the important features of a commercial or office storefront into a more visually attractive package. These goals, in turn, are designed to increase the attractiveness of the downtown, increase patronage for the downtown businesses, and provide the impetus for further private investment in the DBDA. This program, funded by the Town of Ahoskie, is designed to promote economic development. However, it is also designed to provide incentives for more private investment in the downtown.

Unfortunately, we have not seen many property owners take advantage of the wonderful opportunity.

John Fritz, Chairman of Ahoskie’s Historic Preservation Committee, in a presentation to the Ahoskie Rotary Club, said his organization was seeking to expand the town’s historic district as well as creating a second district.

Fritz has discovered that the district could possibly expand, meaning more property owners may benefit from their holdings being deemed historic. That led Fritz and other committee members to come up with an expanded district, one that proposes to cover a 68-block area stretching as far south as Sunset Street to as far north as Rogers Street as well as Catherine Creek Road westward to Pembroke Ave.

This could be just what the doctor ordered. If the business owner takes advantage of the programs and the financial assistance available to them, we can revitalize our downtown. That district can build back and create the pride of ownership and the excitement that once existed in the town Ahoskie.

We must put our best foot forward as we recruit and have officials visit us from these potential new businesses. We only have one opportunity for a great first impression.

Joe Cowart is Publisher of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at joe.cowart@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7218.