Published 8:12 am Thursday, October 15, 2015
AHOSKIE – Do something about Main Street.
As Executive Vice President of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce, Amy Braswell said she has heard that line over and over.
She said there is no time like the present than for the town’s stakeholders to come together and help return Ahoskie’s downtown business district to its former glory.
That effort has been underway for the past several months. In September there was a meeting with the UNC Institute of Government in Chapel Hill where plans were developed to transform an old downtown landmark into a business incubator.
The Ahoskie Municipal Building, located at 301 W. Main St. was once the town’s fire station, police station, and most recently, used by Parks & Recreation for a Halloween haunted house, will be the start of what several downtown areas organizers hope will be targeted for re-development.
Last week, local stakeholders came together for what could be billed as a “pep rally” held in the Ahoskie Town Council meeting room at the Ahoskie Fire Department.
“When you think about our Main Street, it’s our heart…it is what we think of ourselves,” Braswell said at the outset of that meeting. “When you think of a mirror, and you think of looking into that mirror, when people look at Main Street it reflects what our town has become. What I’m hearing others say about that reflection is that Ahoskie has become a little tired, a little run down and a little not functional. We need to do something.”
Braswell said a meeting with Tyrone Lindsey, director of the Ahoskie Housing Authority, led to a mutual agreement that Main Street was in dire need of a facelift and infusion of new businesses. Lindsey suggested that downtown residential development – apartments on the floors above existing businesses – could go hand-in-hand with this downtown revival.
“The housing piece of this development idea is great,” Braswell said. “This has the potential to give us foot traffic downtown for our businesses.”
Braswell rumored that at least one new business is in the works downtown….a brew pub; a restaurant that brews its own beer.
“Brew pubs and micro breweries are a major developing industry in North Carolina,” she stated. “The product will be made in our town, purchased in our town and exported from our town.”
She also touted the growing popularity of Ahoskie’s famed Gallery Theatre, which is embarking on its 50th year of providing entertainment.
“We have people coming in by bus from outside our area to see productions at the Gallery,” Braswell noted. “The Gallery is an asset to our town.”
Braswell mentioned a new public library is now in the planning stages for east Main Street. She said that facility will also serve as a drawing card to attract people downtown.
“We have pieces in place to spark our downtown revitalization,” Braswell stressed. “One downtown building has been sold, and we have people inquiring about the availability of other buildings on Main Street. These are people who do not live in Ahoskie, but they see our potential. What we need as stakeholders here in Ahoskie is for us to see our potential. We need to be the seed of the plan of our future. It’s up to us; identify our assets and come up with a plan to turn Main Street around. What we need to do is develop a plan we all can agree on, one that will benefit Ahoskie five years from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now.
“This town is going to be what our generation leaves for the future. Right now we’ve dropped the ball, but I have faith. We have a lot to build on; let’s pick up that ball and move Ahoskie forward,” Braswell concluded.
At last week’s meeting, Hertford County Economic Development Director Bill Early said his office primarily deals with the industrial end of business recruitment. However, he did stress that when performing that type of recruitment, prospective new industries want to see a growing retail sector.
“We are branching out to assist with retail development in Hertford County,” Early said. “We are working with Murfreesboro on a motel and with Ahoskie for a full-service restaurant.
“The revitalization of Main Street is a concern to me and the county’s Economic Development Commission,” Early continued. “We want to assist and help improve the image of downtown Ahoskie. It’s like Amy said; people come in and look to see what type of image you have in your community. The effort is underway here from a historic standpoint, but there’s more to be done in the way of upkeep and appearance of the buildings. You have my full support as you move forward.”
Another partner in Ahoskie’s downtown revival is Dwayne Patterson, employed by the City of Raleigh who is also a facilitator for ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development. He spoke at last week’s stakeholders meeting.
“I would implore you to discover what you already have here in Ahoskie,” Patterson said. “Discover what people care about here; mobilize those people to act, and recognize what roles those people can fill and serve as you move your project forward,” Patterson said.
He said tapping into the strengths of local stakeholders, to include individuals and civic organizations, will carry Ahoskie far.
“Don’t focus on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have,” he stressed. “Community assets are your building blocks. If you do not lay that foundation within your community, you will be hard-pressed to find others to come and commit to a dream, a vision that your own community is not committed to. You’ve got to mobilize your stakeholders in what they care about in order to get them engaged in a project.”
He added that this project does not need to be thrown at the feet of the Ahoskie Town Council, or the local Chamber of Commerce to move forward.
“Everyone has a role to play…town government, organizations like the Chamber, and by the citizens/business owners,” Patterson stressed. “And everyone needs to understand what their role is. It’s kind of like a basketball team….you don’t want your center handling the duties of your point guard. You want your center posting up and scoring points.”
Patterson led the audience in a team-building exercise, one where he handed out pieces of a puzzle that prompted those in attendance rise from their seats and join with others to solve. He also asked those in attendance to list the three things they would most like to see in the downtown business district, as well one thing they would least like to see.
In closing, Patterson encouraged the audience not to sit and wait for a solution to fall in their laps.
“You’ve got to work together, get involved and share ideas,” he stated. “It’s not going to be easy; nothing worth having in life is easy. Roll up your sleeves and make Ahoskie all it can be.”