Meridian Star

September 8, 2013

Rooney takes Main Street helm

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —   In her first month as director of Meridian Main Street, Karen Rooney has plans to continue and expand revitalization efforts downtown. Main Street's primary mission is to promote the downtown area through sponsoring events and drawing additional businesses to the area.

    "Downtown is where we have strong emotional, social, and civic connections and are motivated to get involved and make a difference,"  Rooney said. "That is why we have so many committed volunteers who help us with our vision."

    A New Orleans native, Rooney has lived in several places through the country, working in marketing and public relations, but her husband's job brought them here five years ago.

    Prior to moving to Meridian, Rooney said she witnessed the revival of downtowns in other areas, so she know it can happen.

    "I'm very excited about the opportunity to try to do something positive for Meridian. Like most people, I'm bewildered why we are not more successful than we are," Rooney said. "I just feel that there is so much potential here."

    Forming the right partnerships with other agencies is vital to success, she said.

    "If we can create events downtown and create exciting things downtown that makes it desirable for tourists to come and stay, we all benefit," Rooney said. "We are supposed to create excitement for coming downtown to give you the sense that this is the place to see and to be seen."

    Hopefully, Rooney said, through events like the art crawl, candy crawl, Downtown After 5 Alive concert series, and Merry Meridian, people will visit downtown and support businesses there. Another goal is to increase the number of businesses downtown, she said.

    "We want to fill up the empty spaces," she said. "If we are successful, we will have increased sales tax revenues. That benefits the city. If we are able to get these buildings filled up and get business better down here, then it will increase property values which increases tax revenue both for the city and the county."

    There are some strategies to encourage businesses to locate downtown, she said, including the establishment of a small business incubator. Rooney added that capitalizing on existing services is important for would-be entrepreneurs who may not be aware of all that is available to them. She said she intends to get the lines of communication open so people know what services are out there.

    Rooney is also working with the city of Meridian to streamline information about starting a business. She is developing a flow chart to explain each step that an entrepreneur will have to take to open for business.

    "There are permits that you need. There are plans that you need to get approved," Rooney said. "There are things that you have to do. We are trying to make it a little more friendly to do business in Meridian."

    Other ongoing events include Earth's Bounty Farmer's Market, Meridian Mardi Gras, as well as other events that Main Street helps, such as the Soule Festival, State Games of Mississippi and Juneteenth celebrations. Two new events have been added as well; the Highway 80 Songwriter's Festival and a Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas.

    Other events Rooney hopes to add are "A Day in the LIfe of Downtown," Dancing Under the Stars, Food Truckin' Tuesdays, Temple Theater promotions, an Easter Bonnet Parade, a Meridian Fall Fashion event, a literary festival, art museum promotion, Wild Beast Feast Barbecue Festival and a living history walking tour.

It's not uncommon for businesses to move out of downtown but Rooney is hoping to reverse that trend in Meridian.

    "As you know the world has changed dramatically since our downtown was built. Economic and cultural homogenization has reached the smallest villages," she said. "Our downtown is facing complex challenges with the realities of e-commerce, malls, and residents who no longer work where they live. But out of this landscape, I see opportunity because the physical, unique place will be more important than ever as people yearn for a sense of connection and community with one another."

    To become a volunteer for Main Street, call 601-693-7480.