The Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation is optimistic about the future of downtown. We are beginning to see the results of some of our initiatives with the installation of attractive canvas awnings on buildings that had bare metal frames. Old signs of businesses that are no longer in operation are also starting to be removed. These two obviously needed improvements are only the start of a comprehensive plan to make our entire district an area the whole community can be proud of.
LDRC is working with Tom Brown, who has successfully guided similar efforts in Bennettsville, S.C. and Cheraw, S.C. and also in Maxton. Under Brown’s direction, LDRC will methodically look at every property in the downtown area and then propose facade improvements on a block by block basis, beginning with Main Street. These improvements, if agreed to by the owners, will be made solely at the expense of LDRC. This plan represents a fundamental change in the way our organization has addressed the issue of improvements to downtown property, as we have traditionally waited on individual property owners to approach us and request reimbursement for a percentage of expenses incurred in making what have generally been less comprehensive improvements.
Some may question why we should make improvements to private property with public money. I would argue that having an attractive, vibrant downtown is important to everyone in the community. Downtown is our historic center, our government center, and is reflective of the condition of the entire city. It is the “front porch” of Laurinburg. It is important to remember that, in addition to paying city and county taxes, downtown property owners pay a special municipal service district tax. Over the past decade, over one half of our funds have gone to employees and office expenses. We have made the strategic decision to close the office, operate without an employee, and let our volunteer board guide or organization, hiring expertise when needed for specific jobs. We believe the lion’s share of our funds should be spent directly on physical improvements to downtown.
As LDRC continues to evolve, our relationship with the city of Laurinburg will become even more important. The city has always been supportive of our organization, but I believe we can enhance and improve our partnership by better defining expectations and aligning goals. LDRC will continue to represent the collective interests of all downtown stakeholders, property owners, tenants, merchants, and everyone who works downtown every day. In this role we can serve as an advocacy and advisory group, working closely with city staff to implement improvements, while at the same time being ready to assist whenever possible. As an example, LDRC recently delivered to the city a parking lot lease signed by eight different property owners, which will enable us to lease the property to the city at no charge in exchange for much-needed paving and improvements. Similarly, we may be able to recommend suggestions for city ordinances which will enhance the downtown area. We intend for LDRC to also serve as an intermediary between local civic, art, and historic group in ways which can benefit both those groups and downtown.
All of the initiatives I have mentioned are directed to our main goal, which is identifying and recruiting the kinds of enterprises that can attract people, enhance downtown, and be self-sustaining. We are committed to creating an environment which will attract those businesses and believe that, after our buildings are improved, the streetscape is enhanced, and our relationship with the city is streamlined, LDRC can place even more emphasis on targeted marketing and promoting what is a wonderful asset for us all: downtown Laurinburg.
Willis is president of the Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation