Meridian Star

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December 19, 2007

Downtown Alliance takes over Main Street organization

Main Street Mississippi is going private.

In a letter issued to the Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith in April, which he read to the city council Tuesday night, Main Street Mississippi required that all local Main Street organizations that are run by city government must be turned over to private organizations.

The organization that will take over Main Street in Meridian is the Alliance for Downtown Meridian, a downtown enrichment organization that was founded last summer and is headed up by chairman Barbaree Heaster.

Main Street Mississippi defines itself as "an economic development program based in historic preservation." According to Heaster, the program is designed to help older cities keep their downtown areas thriving through a variety of programs including the facade grant program, which helps businesses improve their look, and a number of promotion programs.

The motion to give control of Main Street to the Downtown Alliance was passed only by long deliberation of the council. Some council members had reservations about the change despite the mayor's strong recommendation for the Alliance.

Ward 5 Councilman John Harris expressed concern that the area west of 23rd Avenue would be further neglected with too much focus put specifically on the downtown area. He spoke passionately on the need to clean up that area and said that, if necessary, he wants to have neglected properties there condemned.

Dr. George Thomas, the councilman for Ward 1, said he wanted proof that Main Street Mississippi is worth the membership fees, saying: "I want to see something that we get (from Main Street) other than brochures."

The motion did eventually pass, though, with only Jessie Palmer, of Ward 4, voting no on the issue.

Heaster said that the first thing on the agenda for Main Street under the Alliance will be trying to get a new, more affordable, restaurant downtown.

The mayor said at a press conference Wednesday that the city will still have a strong presence both with the Alliance and Main Street, with a representative from the mayor's office serving as a liason between the Alliance and the city. This presence, he said, should ensure "seamless relationships" between the city and the organizations and keep the renovation of downtown a "public-private" venture.

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