Thursday, October 17, 2019

Incremental Downtown District Changes Highlighted at Main Street SC Training

by Jenny Boulware, Main Street SC Manager 

Over the years, multiple city and community leaders in Orangeburg have evoked the idea of “cathedral thinking.” Given the length of time needed to build a grand and ornate cathedral, the individual builders and artisans involved were people who went to work knowing they were unlikely to ever live to see the finished product — but every step involved was one step closer to the goal. 

This idea came up again during Main Street South Carolina’s recent fourth quarter training session in downtown Orangeburg, where Main Street staff from around the state received a welcome from City Administrator John Yow, and learned about local projects from Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association Executive Director Candice Roberson — most notably the construction of the new farmers market pavilion. Candice elaborated on several of the projects in a podcast recorded after the end of the session
The group toured the under-construction farmers market pavilion on Russell Street in downtown Orangeburg. 

The group also heard from Hillary Howard, executive director of Conway Alive, who discussed principles she has learned about relationship-building with downtown merchants and boards, as well as program management. She described the institutional knowledge that a downtown development director develops over time as priceless. While Conway Alive has increased its number of events over the years, the events are all now dollar-positive promotions with the primary aim of driving people into the individual businesses. 
The Orangeburg meeting was the last of the quarterly trainings for the year, following earlier meetings in Columbia, Williamston as well as Aiken and North Augusta. 

The training also featured a grant panel including the Downtown Camden program, Main Street Bennettsville and Main Street Kingstree. The participants discussed their goals and experiences with specific grant projects, and several themes emerged. First, aggressively pursuing grants can be a great way for any downtown program to develop diversity in funding. Additionally, there’s value in establishing goals ahead of time, rather than simply going after every grant opportunity that presents itself. Instead, programs should ideally decide on either specific projects or on focus areas for grant funding, like walkability or recreation. 

South Carolina’s history of coordinated and sustained downtown revitalization programs has many people noticing significant, positive changes in one downtown district or another. Still, changes are incremental, and it’s easy to become discouraged. This last Main Street SC training highlighted ways that communities can keep pushing for more vibrant downtowns and the results that can follow.