Main St. Intent

Published 5:00 pm Thursday, August 9, 2012

FARMVILLE – Town Council adopted a resolution authorizing participation in the Virginia Main Street program but only after making certain no long-term funding promise was being made.

The resolution states that the Town of Farmville “intends that it will be a financial partner with the Main Street organization for five years to ensure a sustainable Main Street program operating budget will be funded.”

Intends, not promises.

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Town Council approved $60,000, most of it to fund the position of Downtown Farmville's executive director, in the 2012-13 Town budget. Downtown Farmville expects to have its first-ever executive director in place in October and believes the statement of intent will play a crucial role in the hiring process.

Last week's vote also designates Town Manager Gerald Spates to assist in coordinating all program application activities. It was the Town of Farmville that applied, on behalf of Downtown Farmville, to participate in the Virginia Main Street program.

The nation-wide Main Street program is based on a four-point approach, developed in 1977 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, focused on design, economic restructuring, promotion and organization.

During a lengthy discussion at their regular August meeting, Town Council members expressed their support for Downtown Farmville and the Virginia Main Street program but also concern over any perceived promise of continued funding.

The resolution was introduced by Spates, who told Town Council members that “it's not a requirement that we do this but I think it's something that will make the Main Street program…feel a whole lot more comfortable.”

Plus, he added, in trying to hire an executive director “the first thing they (the applicant) ask is 'how long are you going to fund it for?'

“You may not get the person that you want (without some indication of continued support),” Spates said.

Who, in other words, is going to quit a job, pack up their family and move to Farmville to become executive director of Downtown Farmville without a commitment beyond one year?

“So they're asking for funding for five years, am I correct on that?” asked council member Jamie Davis.

“The intention to fund (for five years)…If council changes if you decide then….that's council's prerogative,” Spates said of the future.

“But in signing this it would insinuate that we are planning on including, at least in the budget for next year….” Davis continued.

At that point, council member David E. Whitus said, “just as a point of information, when we did the budget we specifically were not committing for five years. Am I correct?”

“Absolutely,” replied councilman Dr. Edward I. Gordon. “It deviated from what we said before.”

“And this,” Whitus said of the resolution, “pretty much is (guaranteeing continued funding to them).”

“No,” Spates said, at nearly the same instant that council member, and Downtown Farmville board member, Sally Thompson, said, “No, this is a show of support.”

“It's an act of good faith if we feel we can afford it at the time,” Dr. Gordon wondered aloud. “Would that be a fair statement?”

Agreeing with that assessment, Spates said, “that's why it puts the word 'intend' instead of 'will.'”

Dr. Gordon then noted that, “while every single one of us is in favor of the project, we made a big point of saying it would be best if Farmville stayed out of it. If we want to say it is our intent-the difference between shall and will-we don't have to, and it really means supportive, then that's fine. We can say we're supportive because we are but if this is committing that's exactly opposite of what we said we wanted to do…”

At this point, Town Attorney Donald C. Blessing said the resolution expresses “support. This is not a statement of commitment. It's not binding you to do it, and I've got no dog in this fight,” he added, regarding his impartiality.

“Don't use the word 'fight,' please,” Dr. Gordon said, laughing good-naturedly, “because this is not a fight.”

Blessing reiterated, minus any martial landing references, that the resolution is “not a legal commitment to fund; it is a statement of policy intention.”

“More like a resolution we're supportive of,” said Dr. Gordon.

Council member Davis then wondered aloud if the resolution would be viewed as a five-year financial commitment by Downtown Farmville.

“We would hope it would be a five-year financial commitment,” Thompson answered. “We would hope that what this (project) does, what the downtown revitalization committee does is enough to spur or to bring business to make it worth your while and that you will see a real change in downtown, as far as tourists, as far as energy.”

Ms. Thompson spoke of Downtown Farmville's volunteers as “a group of people who really see good things coming, see things that will enhance the community , enhance the downtown, will bring people downtown, but we can't do it out of our own pockets…”

“Sally,” Dr. Gordon told her, “I have no objection to what you said whatsoever and I don't think one person on council feels any different. That was our intent when we supported it…If the funds are there we would consider it as funding at the time but not now as a commitment…I just don't want to lock ourselves into something that we didn't consider at budget time. If we have the money we probably would (appropriate) but I worry if we don't have the money that we're not locked in.”

Ms. Thompson looked at her fellow council member and said, “I think that's understood.”

Council member Donald L. Hunter reminded council that they had previously decided to stop making appropriations to non-Town agencies.

“Not too long ago we shut off everyone for asking us for money. By doing this,” he asked, “are we opening the door back?”

“Yes,” Dr. Gordon quickly replied. “…That's my point, too. It worries me but we're still giving a resolution of support…They may look upon it differently. Other people may look upon it differently. So be it…We are supportive of it and that's what we're saying. It's semantics. If we don't have the money we're not going to (provide funding)…and this isn't going to lock us in.”

Dr. Gordon said he agreed with Hunter that the resolution “gives the impression that we're opening the door” and he agreed with Whitus “that this is something of the past coming back to haunt us and reversing what we thought.”

Town Council minutes, Whitus said, “should show the town intends, provided that it has the financial resources…”

Hunter then made a motion to approve the resolution, as presented, stating that the Town “intends that it will be a financial partner…for five years…”

A member of Town Council subsequently noted that Downtown Farmville representatives have been absent the past two meetings, including August, since the Town voted to fund the $60,000.

Whitus said, “We should get a monthly report about what's going on.”

Thompson said she was “sure that will happen once a director is hired.”

When asked by The Herald for a comment, Downtown Farmville co-chair Chuck Ross emailed a statement, saying, “I really regret not being at this meeting to be engaged in the discussion. As Town Council members know, I have attended virtually every town council meeting for a number of years. In fact, it is not uncommon for me to be the only person at these meetings who is not required to be there for one reason or another. The Town Council meets on the second Wednesday of each month and so I had planned on attending and giving a Main Street update on August 8. Unfortunately, I was ill and missed the July 11 meeting and apparently at that meeting it was decided to make a one-time change to the first Wednesday of August to accommodate the town manager's vacation plans. During the August 1 meeting I was 50 yards away at the Open Mic night at Crute Stage, completely oblivious to the meeting taking place.”

Ross continued that, “I do hope that everyone on council appreciates the value of the Main Street program and I applaud them for this resolution. This is a program for which the Town of Farmville made application to Governor McDonnell and it's a high honor to be accepted. There is certainly an implied commitment by any town that applies that they will do their best to support the program financially and I think that the resolution accomplishes that. Working for the government myself, I am well aware of the limitations of guaranteeing fiscal year monies. But it is important that the commitment is there in spirit.”

Ross noted that his perspective comes as chair of the search committee for the Main Street Executive Director position “that is so crucial to this program succeeding. We have narrowed a strong field of 51 candidates to four extremely strong candidates, none of whom live locally. There is no way that any person of the caliber of these people is going to leave their current position and uproot themselves or their family if they feel our commitment is only until June 2013.”

Ross is joined on the search committee by fellow co-chair Jimmy Johnson, Kerry Mossler, Brad Watson, Emily Pilk and Cindy Cave.

“By the time we have made an offer and have a person on the ground here, it will likely be late fall and thus they will have only six months to get oriented and start the program moving before the budget meetings start again. I would hate to have lack of progress in such a short time be interpreted as failure. Therefore, the council's public resolution of their intention of support for five years is critical to our hiring the right person,” he stressed.

The Main Street program, Ross noted, “has a proven track record of success in revitalizing downtowns. Anyone who walks in downtown Farmville and sees the vacant buildings or drives downtown after 5 p.m. looking for something to do must realize we need this program for the long haul. I am delighted that council has the vision to continue investing in the program for which the town applied.”

The resolution unanimously adopted by Town Council begins by noting, “the Town of Farmville applied for and was selected to participate in the 2012 Virginia Main Street program with the specific goal of economically revitalizing the designated Main Street district within the context of historic preservation using the Main Street approach.”

The resolution concludes by stating, “it is recognized that downtown revitalization requires an on-going commitment, continuous attention, and a full public-private partnership. The Main Street program is considered one of many economic and community development tools used by a locality.”