Published 3:53 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2012
FARMVILLE – Forget settling for a field goal.
Downtown Farmville is aiming to return Monday evening's Main Street kick-off for a winning touchdown.
And it will be a team effort involving the community and its landscape.
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Virginia Main Street (VMS) officials presented the special road signs designating Farmville's membership in the statewide downtown revitalization program and their unveiling capped a celebratory hour at the j fergeson gallery, which hosted the event sponsored by Centra Southside Community Hospital.
Governor Bob McDonnell's summer announcement that Farmville had been selected to join 24 other state communities in the VMS program was a milestone on the journey of town residents and business people who joined together two years ago to spark downtown revitalization, creating Downtown Farmville as the banner organization leading the charge.
“It's been a long time coming,” said Downtown Farmville president and Main Street businessman Jimmy Johnson during the ceremony. “It's not something we set out to do when we first started our Downtown Farmville group back in the summer of 2010.”
But membership in the prestigious VMS program was ardently pursued and eagerly embraced when the opportunity arose to apply for membership June.
The Main Street program's self-described approach “provides a flexible framework that puts the traditional assets of downtown, such as unique architecture and locally-owned businesses, to work as a catalyst for economic growth and community pride.”
One size does not fit all and the VMS program preaches that individual community attribute revitalization mantra as it provides best practices, technical advice, training opportunities, connections, and a small amount of grant funding.
Johnson thanked the many people who have contributed to the downtown revitalization crusade and gave a history of the community's efforts that resulted in the j fergeson gallery being packed with local officials and civic-minded community leaders for the official kick-off of the VMS revitalization project.
The Town of Farmville made the actual application to the state for membership in VMS and Johnson thanked Town Manager Gerald Spates for his encouragement to make that application and “your faith in us to try to move forward with this opportunity.”
Spates called the designation as a Virginia Main Street community “an honor. Credit for this designation can be given to Downtown Farmville's vision, their hard work, and determination, along with support of the Farmville Town Council.”
The degree of enthusiasm and support within the community was dramatically illustrated when Johnson noted “we had to have support, we had to have a budget, we had to show financial stability. At the time, I think we had $200, maybe $300 in the bank that we had made off t-shirt sales. That's the only actual funding we had. So the word went out to the community.”
And the word was heard.
“We had tremendous support,” Johnson said, listing more than 20 individuals and businesses that combined to quickly contribute enough “that within a couple of weeks we were able to put together a budget of $61,020 to go in with our application.”
The support included cash, in-kind services and in-kind products.
“A lot of people came together, a lot of diversity there,” Johnson said.
And many big hopes for the future.
“Through the Main Street designation,” Spates said, “the Town of Farmville wishes to continue to develop public and private efforts to facilitate the revitalization of our downtown district…”
And there is reason for optimism.
“As the region's center of economic activity, Farmville's current service area captures a population of about 120,000 people,” Spates noted. “Total retail sales in Farmville grew to a half a billion dollars last year, which is up by 11 percent from the previous year.”
Spates also underscored the Town's improvements to the downtown area, such as the Farmers Market and the streetscape improvements on Main Street.
“The Town of Farmville,” Spates pledged, “looks forward to working with Downtown Farmville, as well as with Virginia Main Street, to make Farmville's Main Street community a more vibrant place to visit and to shop.”
Spates said the Town had looked at the possibility and potential of seeking membership in VMS “over the years, for about the past seven or eight years, and I don't think we were really ready for it until now. But I think we really are…We look forward to this being a step forward for our downtown.
“You know we're going to work with you,” Spates told Johnson.
Johnson appreciated that pledge of support and complimented the Town on its downtown enhancement projects.
“With this economy we all need to work together, come together. We need to strengthen the downtown. And those of us downtown appreciate it and I think it's not just downtown, it's the whole community because whatever happens here, it's going to grow and prosper and it's going to radiate out and it's going to affect everybody within the whole entire region.”
The mood Monday evening was radiant and VMS representative Jeff Sadler liked what he saw Monday night.
“This is a really impressive crowd. We travel to a lot of places throughout the state…and we never know what we're going to get when we get there,” he told the dozens gathered for the kick-off. “We try and say, 'Look, we want to come and help you but it doesn't do any good if we come and have a meeting with two people.' And sometimes we get there and they took that to heart and there's one person there. Other times we get 10 or 15 but it's really rare that we a room full of people, especially a room this size. This is really impressive.”
And, he said, ” the Main Street organization's role is to involve all of you.”
Virginia Main Street, housed within the state's Department of Housing and Community Development, was created in 1985 to help Virginia localities “revitalize the economic vitality of downtown commercial districts” based on the National Main Street Center's approach.
“Main Street is a comprehensive, incremental approach to revitalization built around a community's unique heritage and attributes. Using local resources and initiatives, Main Street helps communities develop their own strategies to stimulate long-term economic growth and pride in the traditional community center-downtown,” the state website explains.
“The communities we work with are really different,” Sadler said Monday evening. “Some of them are very different from others.”
But one ingredient for success that is shared and must be shared, no matter the uniquely individualistic attributes of the 25 VMS communities, is partnership, Sadler said.
The state working with organizations and communities that should take the idea of partnerships to creative and imaginative limits that go beyond people and organizations and embrace the sense of place.
“You have river you ought to be partnering with. The trail (High Bridge Trail) is another wonderful partnership opportunity. So how do you partner with river? I don't know,” Sadler said. “You guys figure that out. We can help you and show you other examples.”
But Farmville's touchdown will be scored by Farmville.