By Stan Welch
Approximately forty residents, business owners, and elected officials gathered to hear an official of the South Carolina Municipal Association’s Main Street program make her pitch Tuesday evening.
Beppie LeGrande gave a presentation explaining the process that the downtown revitalization program offers to small towns. The program, which began in the late 1970s, and arrived in South Carolina in 1985, began in response to the emergence of malls and big box stores which often sucked the business from the downtown areas.
LeGrande pointed out that the program consists of a coalition of public and private sector entities. She stressed the importance of also supporting an area’s existing businesses as well as recruiting others. “Businesses are more likely to follow business. Trying to attract new blood to a failing downtown is difficult.”
The commercial core of a downtown ideally includes unique stores that make a substantial contribution to the local economy. That will hopefully result in a wider market draw and allow for a broader shopping experience than just the stores involved,” said LeGrande.
The program follows a four point approach, implementing organization, promotion, economic restructuring, and design elements. LeGrande told the audience that the first year is generally spent in building the organization of the local program. “We will focus on helping you folks harness the ideas you have to shape the approach you want to take.”
The program is not without a substantial cost. LeGrande said that the Municipal Association requires a three year commitment to the program but pointed out that some towns have been members since the organization’s inception almost thirty years ago.
Over that first year to year and a half, which is essentially the organizational phase, the cost is ten thousand dollars a year. The second and third years cost $7500 per year, and subsequent years generally cost approximately $5000 a year.
Williamston Mayor Mack Durham had previously pointed out that the MASC had agreed to allow Williamston, Pelzer and West Pelzer participate under one umbrella, allowing the towns to share those costs.
Durham added that an additional required cost would be the employment of a Main Street program coordinator, at a salary of approximately $45,000 a year, including benefits.
Durham has also expressed his opinion that the town’s hospitality tax revenues could be used to fund that coordinator’s position. Whether that proves true upon further inquiry will likely be a key element in whether the three towns choose to participate in the program.
Among those present were the entire Williamston Town Council, West Pelzer Mayor Peggy Paxton and members of her Council, as well as representatives of the Pelzer Heritage Commission, and several business owners.