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Town Funding Main St. Leader

FARMVILLE – The Town of Farmville's proposed 2012-13 budget would fill Downtown Farmville's Main Street program's tank full of gas.

Town Council is poised to approve $60,000, most of which will be used to pay the salary of the organization's executive director, who will have a base salary of between $40,000 and $45,000, depending upon qualifications.

Applications for the position were received through Thursday.

Farmville is one of four Virginia communities recently admitted to the statewide technical assistance program that now totals 25 communities and state and local officials are beginning craft the way Farmville will most benefit from membership.

A component of the commonwealth's Department of Housing and Community Development, Virginia's program is based on the four-point National Main Street approach: design, organization, promotion and economic restructuring.

During its budget work session, Town officials discussed the appropriation for the Downtown Farmville Main Street program.

“Can you tell me exactly what this executive director position is going to do?” asked council member David E. Whitus.

“I know it says support revitalization. And I know Ms. Thompson and Mr. Pairet (council members Sally Thompson and Tommy Pairet) are both on the committee. Exactly what is this person going to do?” he asked.

Council member Thompson replied that the executive director “will be directing the whole organization of Main Street. Instead of having it run by (volunteers) we need somebody who can tell us where to go, help organize meetings, attend meetings that belong to the Main Street organization, that can help us set up and successfully carry out projects, so that it is not run in a haphazard way.

“This is an important thing for our community,” Ms. Thompson said. “We need to have somebody who is up front who has knowledge of Main Street.”

Pairet also pointed to the role grant funds will play.

“A lot of different funding options. Hopefully they'll have a background knowledge of how to apply for them, what we're eligible for, what we're not eligible for,” Pairet told Whitus.

“And this person will report to the Main St. board?” Whitus wanted to know.

“Yes,” Ms. Thompson answered.

The lack of Town direction in the program, despite the $60,000 appropriation, Spates pointed out, is part of the Virginia Main Street blueprint.

“It's really the way the program is designed,” the town manager said. “It's out of a locality's hands. The localities, just about all of them, contribute quite a bit of the financial support to run the organization, but they have no direct control over (the organization).”

Spates has absolutely no problem with that.

“I look at it as a way for them to market themselves and to try to attract other businesses to come in, rather than, you know you always hear, 'What can you do to help us?' This way,” Spates noted, “they can take care of themselves and kind of control their own destiny.”

Ms. Thompson subsequently asked Whitus if the information had answered his question and her fellow council member answered in the affirmative.

“I think,” Ms. Thompson said, “it's an investment in our future.”

In its ad seeking applicants for the position, Downtown Farmville states that the executive director must be “a dynamic and creative person with excellent written and oral communication skills…entrepreneurial and able to engage a wide variety of people.”

The executive director “will promote public awareness of the program and act as liaison to other government and community organizations.”

But Downtown Farmville won't rely on just one pair of shoulders if it intends to be successful in the long-term.

A successful Main Street program relies on power through an effective, sustained group performance, not virtuoso solos, Jeff Sadler, with the Virginia Main Street program, told the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce last year.

“Not every one of our 25 Main Street communities is a high-performing organization or high-performing town. The ones that take a proactive approach to figuring out what they want and work towards it and get a lot of buy-in from lots of different folks are very successful. And other ones are always waiting for someone to do it for them,” Sadler said. “And that's the big key-that it takes a lot of people.”

Sadler stressed the individualistic mantra intoned throughout the Main Street paradigm-focusing on a community's unique assets and building on them.

All 25 communities in Virginia Main Street are different and Sadler stressed, “that is what we really try and do with Main Street. Focus on what are the assets that you have and let's build with your assets. It's not about 'here's the play-by-play of what you do to go through and revive your downtown,' because every downtown is different, every community is different, and so you need to identify that.”

One of the things Virginia Main Street will do is spend time in Farmville, looking at the businesses that are here but, more specifically, what businesses are not here but would make a good fit, complementing existing businesses and capitalizing on the community needs.

Economic restructuring is an essential piece of the Main Street program's puzzle.

“Economic restructuring really is just that, realizing that Farmville's economy right now is different that what it was ten years ago, different than it was 30 years ago,” Sadler explained. “It's certainly different than it was 70 years ago.”

Coupled with that realization is looking forward into the future and asking “what is it going to be in 10 years and 20 years,” Sadler said, “and really trying to keep that in mind and moving forward.”

A successful Main Street initiative, he stressed, is “constantly evolving.”

As a part of the economic restructuring process, Main Street Virginia personnel will be walking the historic downtown district, coming up with suggestions and choices, not mandates.

“Once people's habits have shifted and they're not coming downtown,” he advised, “you have to give them a reason to come check it out.”