LAURINBURG — With representatives from the N.C. Main Street Center, lofficials continued examining the city’s assets and how they may contribute to helping Laurinburg’s downtown area live up to its potential.
Center director Liz Parham and downtown coordinator Sherry Adams led the second session since the city was accepted into the Main Street Center’s Downtown Associate Community Program last year.
Teddy Warner, the city’s community development director, is at the head of the city’s effort to proceed with the downtown associate program, which is designed to prepare cities for Main Street community status within three years by assisting with organization, promotion, design, and economic restructuring.
Among aspects of the community highlighted were institutions like Richmond Community College and Scotland Healthcare System, cultural influences including the John Blue Festival, Scotland High School football team, and Storytelling and Arts Center of the Southeast, and natural assets such as Camp Monroe, the Lumber River, and Cypress Bend Vineyard.
“When we look at these types of assets, we’re looking pretty broad-scale. Economic assets: certainly industry, certainly key businesses, but … also if there are specific types of businesses in your downtown,” said Parham. “We’re looking also for activities within your downtown that create economic activity. When we look at cultural assets, we’re looking at National Register districts, historic sites, do you have dance groups, music groups, storytellers?”
Officials from the Main Street Center will spend a day with Warner and other city staff in Laurinburg quarterly as the city moves toward Main Street status, beginning each session with a public information meeting.
Those attending Tuesday’s meetings included City Manager Charles Nichols, Laurinburg City Council members Mary Jo Adams and Dee Hammond, Scotland County Board of Commissioners Chair Carol McCall, and Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation director Jim Willis.
One of the major projects completed as part of the program will be an inventory of the downtown area’s 72 blocks, 73 businesses, and 109 buildings, which average 75 years in age and 20 of which are currently vacant.
“That’s going to be so important: I can’t tell you how many times in the last few years somebody would just say what’s available downtown,” said Willis. “If you could have all of that in front of you: square footage, for sale, for rent, for lease, that’s a valuable marketing tool.”
The potential of existing space downtown will be reassessed based on an optimal 1,000-1,500 square feet of retail space per business.
“How many of your buildings have 8,000, 10,000, 20,000 square feet?” Parham asked. “What we have to do in downtown revitalization is figure out how to diversify that property, to split it apart to get multiple uses.”
Based on that information and the city’s identified strengths — highways, historical culture, and community pride — and challenges — high poverty and changing economic structure due to the loss of manufacturing — the city will develop a plan for future development.
“We’ve identified assets, we’ve identified economic drivers, we’ve identified stakeholders, we’re identifying partners, and then we’re going to be talking in the next steps about mission: who’s doing what here in your community?” Parham said. “Everybody’s got a role in downtown development; everyone does. We’ll identify what people are currently doing so we can identify where there are gaps.”
Though many of the resources identified in the process so far are organized groups, nonprofits, and businesses, the project’s ultimate goal will be to create an improved experience for a diverse array of businesses and consumers.
“Really everyone that goes into downtown and shops, eats, or conducts any kind of business is really the stakeholder,” McCall said. “They’re the beneficiaries.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.