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Downtown Farmville Applicants

FARMVILLE – Downtown Farmville has received coast-to-coast interest in filling the position of the local Main Street program's first executive director.

The organization's co-chair Jimmy Johnson told Farmville's Town Council that “they go anywhere from here in Farmville to North Carolina, California, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Georgia.

“They're coming from all over. That could be indicative of how wonderful Farmville is. I'd like to think that, rather than the fact that the economy's (not good),” he told council members last month regarding the 23 applications received at that point.

“We're really impressed by what we've got so far. The cut-off will be July 15…We feel like we're going to have some real terrific people to choose from to bring in here to get the program up and running,” Johnson informed Town officials.

The executive director won't boss Downtown Farmville and its Main Street program but will work for the organization's board of directors and provide day-to-day management.

The nation-wide Main Street program is based on a four-point approach, developed in 1977 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and focuses on design, economic restructuring, promotion and organization. Farmville and Downtown Farmville were added to the Virginia Main Street program last year, the announcement made by Governor McDonnell.

Success for a brand new Main Street program is not expected to occur overnight. Realistically, five years are likely necessary to achieve take-off and sustained flight for the fledgling initiative.

There are 30 applicants for the job as of this week and Johnson told The Herald that there continues to be interest from a national pool for a position Downtown Farmville hopes to have filled by October 1.

“They're still coming from all over the country, not so many from the West Coast or even the Midwest, but up and down the East Coast…Some are fairly close by, a few locals. But it's a nice diverse group,” he said during a Monday interview.

Some of the applicants do have a background with Main Street in various capacities.

“So that's sort of encouraging, as well,” Johnson said. “But we haven't gotten to the point yet of actually analyzing to know exactly in what direction we're looking.”

Looking through the applications, Johnson has seen that some of them are fairly recent graduates or have just earned a graduate degree of some sort.

“A lot of those people are in historic preservation and that sort of thing, and whether their real interest is more the historic preservation and that sort of stuff or not I'm not sure, which is probably not exactly what we're looking for,” he explained. “…Because there's not a lot of historic preservation to be done, especially downtown. Most of the historic buildings have been destroyed over the years, for one reason or another…” he said.

Downtown Farmville will need to make certain the applicants are “really geared into the Main Street approach with economic restructuring and events and all of that, as well, or whether they're more into the historical thing.

“But it's interesting,” he said of the 30 applications so far received.

The pool of applicants will be narrowed down about 10 finalists and Johnson believes there are enough good candidates now that the 10 finalists are “going to be fairly highly qualified.”

The fact that a number of applicants are out of state, he believes, speaks well for the area and the potential of Downtown Farmville's success in the Main Street program.

Johnson spoke of the potential so clearly evident because of Longwood, Hampden-Sydney, High Bridge Trail State Park, the Moton Museum, Sailor's Creek and other historical and outdoor recreation opportunities that can be tied together.

There is a lot of synergy.

“Yeah, it is. It's just a matter of getting everybody connected, overcoming what I call the disconnect,” he said, speaking of “a lot of things going on but a lot of times Group A doesn't know what Group B is doing or C or even that two or three of them exist.”

Downtown Farmville envisions adding to the calendar of fun and interesting things to do.

“We want to come up with one or two signature events that will be a Downtown Farmville event…a combination fundraiser but also an events thing to bring people downtown to be aware of what is downtown,” he said.

Hiring an executive director is a crucial step for Downtown Farmville. Filling it with the best possible candidate is a must.

“We're probably going to interview four or five,” Johnson said.

The field of applicants is already being tentatively narrowed down to some extent, even though the application period runs through July 15, rather than waiting until mid-month to begin looking at the applications.

Johnson said there are a few applicants that won't make the final list simply “because they just don't have the experience or the background that we're looking for; their focus is not what we need.”

When the five to ten finalists are determined they will first be interviewed by telephone or Skype.

“To feel them out further before we have in-person interviews,” Johnson explained. “But we're thinking right now of bringing probably at least three or four, maybe five, here” for face-to-face interviews.

Those visits won't be zoom-zoom in and zoom-zoom out, either.

Downtown Farmville plans to have the interviewees “here for more than just an initial interview but spend some time looking around town and let them have some time on their own….and meet with our board because the board will make the final decision. We're trying to involve as many people as we can, as long as it's controlled, so that everybody's got exposure to the finalists,” Johnson said.

The hope is to begin the interviews in early August and then it is anticipated it will take about 45 days to bring the executive director on board and on the job.

“Ideally, the person would be onboard by the first of October,” he pointed out. “That way they can be involved with this holiday season coming up, which will probably be our first actual opportunity to get some things going on.”

Hiring an executive director will not diminish the importance of Downtown Farmville's volunteers and committee structure, or the board of directors.

“Essentially, this person will be working for the board of directors and consequently they are lending support to our four subcommittees, which is the four-point approach of the Main Street program,” Johnson noted. “But they will not be actually running the organization. It will be-I don't want to put this the wrong way-this is not going to be somebody that's going to come in here and tell us what to do or be directing the entire program.

“They will be assisting with the program and managing it, helping keep us on point via reports and things that need to be filed monthly and quarterly with Virginia Main Street, which actually is part of the beauty of the Main Street program,” Johnson elaborated, “because it keeps you engaged, your various committees, on what their focus is. And, based on the reports, over time you're accumulating the feedback to be able to look at what your accomplishments are and to set your future goals…”

Johnson fervently believes that it will become obvious that Downtown Farmville is “not just an organization that's benefitting a few but is benefitting the entire community because of all the various repercussions from what has been created here. Any new business that comes in is paying taxes, hiring people and paying rent, insurance, all that stuff. It compounds.”

The executive director is expected to make Downtown Farmville a manageable and more efficient organization but tangible results are not expected in the blink of an eye.

“We're looking five years as sort of a window of growth and development,” Johnson noted.

Downtown Farmville, with its executive director, will “need support from the locality, as well as citizen support and other organizations, over the period of those five years…just to keep the operation functioning and solvent so that after those five years….as it goes on you're able to become more and more self-sustaining.

“There's always some sort of investment by the locality in to the Main Street program. The goal,” he said, “is to make that a smaller portion…through fundraising and support…”

Some Main Street communities in the state, Johnson pointed out, have been receiving local funding “for 15 or 20 years. Others hardly get any. It depends on the locality you've got to work with.”

Downtown Farmville feels lucky to have the strong support of the Town of Farmville, which approved $60,000 in its 2012-13 operating budget for the position of executive director.

Prince Edward County's donation of office space is also deeply appreciated.

On a day in October, Downtown Farmville's first executive director will be sitting behind that desk, working to take the organization forward.