Meridian Star

March 24, 2013

Meridian Main Street deserves recognition

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Two popular downtown Meridian events are soon coming back bigger and better.

    The fall Downtown — After 5 Alive concert series in Dumont Plaza that kicked off last fall returns Thursday.

    "It was such a hit last fall that we decided to expand the series to include a spring edition," said John McClure, executive director of Meridian Main Street, which produces the series.

    A diverse group of musicians will perform at Dumont Plaza for five consecutive Thursdays in a row beginning at 5 p.m.

    The concert series last fall featured an impressive lineup of musical talent performing a wide range of music genres, from country, to classic rock to R&B. Hundreds of people filled Dumont Plaza for the concerts.

    The spring concert series will offer what could prove to be an even more impressive lineup of  musicians, including the Cross Mountain Praise Band, Homemade Jamz, Amy Lott and The Usual Suspects, Steve Wilkerson and Grady Champion.

    Another popular downtown event spearheaded by Meridian Main Street last year was the Earth's Bounty Festival held the first Saturday of each month from June to November at Singing Brakeman Park on Front Street.

    Developed as a joint venture between Meridian Main Street and the Meridian Area Farmers Market, the intent was to support local produce growers while offering area residents access to fresh fruits, vegetables and homemade jams and jellies. Earth's Bounty also featured live music, children's activities and contests, such as pumpkin carving and seed-spitting competitions.

    Earth's Bounty will begin even sooner this year, kicking off Saturday, April 6. This year, Meridian Main Street is partnering with Greater Meridian Health Clinic to offer free health screenings for attendees.

    "Our vision has always been, and with the partnership of the Earth's Bounty Festival, continues to be the promotion of healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle for everyone," Greater Meridian Health Clinic Executive Director Wilbert Jones said at a press conference earlier this month to announce the partnership.

    Last September the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce recognized the Earth's Bounty Festival as a Mississippi Certified Farmers Market, a designation only granted to farmers markets that meet stringent state guidelines.

    We have been impressed with the efforts of Meridian Main Street. Not only has the organization been able to offer area residents welcome downtown activities, but it has helped draw people to the downtown area to support city businesses.

    Last year Earth's Bounty attracted an average of 1,500 people each Saturday, with a high attendance of about 2,000 people in November.

    McClure said the series of Earth's Bounty festivals pumped about $100,000 into the economy.

    Earth's Bounty and the Downtown — After 5 Alive concert series are just two of the many events in which Meridian Main Street is involved. The organization has its hand in just about every major activity in the city's core, including the Kid's Downtown Art Crawl on April 2 from 4-7 p.m. that will feature children's artwork on display — including sidewalk chalk art, mask and kite making, live music and more.

    Meridian Main Street's efforts have not gone unnoticed. The organization has earned six awards over the past three years from the Mississippi Main Street Association, including honors for its annual report and Nexus Hero program for online entrepreneurs.

    Meridian Main Street's consistent performance has earned it the designation as one of the top Main Street organizations in the Southeast.

    Last year Meridian Main Street took top honors in the Best Business Retention/Recruitment category by the Mississippi Main Street Association for efforts to encourage development of more downtown living quarters.

    At the awards luncheon, McClure was also presented the Excellence in Main Street Award for his work to promote the city's downtown district. The award was well deserved.

    McClure has been involved in statewide efforts in the Main Street program since its inception in the mid-1980s, taking over as executive director of Meridian Main Street in 2010.

    Both McClure and his staff are to be commended for making downtown Meridian a more vibrant and attractive place for area residents to live, work and play.