As spring finally arrives after a long harsh winter, downtown Laurinburg is looking as fresh and colorful as the blooms emerging all over town. The Phase 1 improvements the Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation (LDRC) just completed in February included cleaning, repairing and painting more than 50 private properties all paid for by our organization. The response from owners, businesses and the general public has been extremely positive as the months of planning, promoting and implementing this initiative has come to fruition.
I am also delighted to report that after years of concern and discussion, a special downtown tree, our Davie Poplar, has been given a new chance to survive and thrive. The original Davie Poplar on the campus of The University of North Carolina is said to be the spot where Revolutionary War General William Richardson Davie had a pleasant summer lunch in 1792 and decided to locate the countries’ first public university there. Maybe more legend than actual history, the tree is still a significant symbol of the university and in 1993, to celebrate the school’s bicentennial, 100 seedlings were given to each county in the state. Ours was planted in the parking lot beside the A.B. Gibson building.
Although the triangle-shaped space seemed adequate at the time, 20 years later the 60-foot-tall tree was stressed and in danger of dying. After consulting with experts and exploring our options, it was decided the best option was to give it more room where it is. With cooperation from Scotland County Schools and the City of Laurinburg, we removed curbing, dug up pavement and expanded an area sixteen feet in diameter to provide adequate soil and root space. We are planning a re-dedication and plaque unveiling to celebrate this enduring symbol of our history and commitment to public education.
We just hosted another successful Art Crawl last Friday night in partnership with The Storytelling & Arts Center. Downtown was filled with people enjoying food, music, art and entertainment both inside shops and on the street. Events and promotions like this are a key part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street approach to downtown revitalization. Working with other groups to organize events like this in our downtown, achieves our goal of having them without the expense of paid staff to implement them.
The experience of last year’s Phase 1 improvements has prepared us well to begin Phase 2 of our initiative which will continue on Main Street and move across the railroad crossing to Bizzell Street. We learned a considerable amount last year about how to best manage this project: e.g., what to specify on bid requests to contractors and how to coordinate with property owners. A committee of our board led by Jeanette Herlocker, with Jan Schmidt, Stephania Smith, Brandi Deese and Mac McInnis just completed a detailed plan for needed improvements to over one hundred additional properties. Recognizing the needed repairs and painting exceed our current resources; we now have a framework we can continue to use in coming years to identifying opportunities and maximize our funds. This plan provides a logical, systematic blueprint that is transparent in our methodology of prioritizing upgrades that will make all of downtown an inviting place to visit, shop and dine.
The ultimate goal of our work, besides the obvious desire to improve the appearance, is to attract private investment. This is beginning to happen with the sale and planned renovation of one Main Street property and serious interest in other significant downtown buildings. Our strategy of operating without paid staff and an office continue to give us more resources to invest in capital improvements and promotions, maximizing the affects of the public money we have been given. LDRC has several other initiatives in various stages of planning including acquiring and re-purposing property, investigating the installation of security cameras, increasing our presence in social media and on the web and replacing some streetscape items like trash receptacles and banners.
Communication with Scotland County Commissioners, Laurinburg City Council and the Laurinburg Police Department has been key to the process of working on these different projects. LDRC is especially thankful for our partnership with the City without whose in-kind contributions of brains, skill and manpower we could not do all we do. We remain optimistic about the future of downtown as we continue efforts to make our historic city center a special place to make everyone in our community proud . Our goal is to make our downtown a place that reflects what is best about Laurinburg and Scotland County, a place that gives a positive impression to visitors, and a place that helps companies Target Laurinburg/Scotland County. Hope to see you downtown.
Jim & Frances Willis own ShirtTales and The Downtown Club on Main Street. Jim is chairman of the Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation.