The vibrancy of a downtown is important to a community’s well-being, says Thomas Gregory, state coordinator for Mississippi Main Street Association.

Gregory spoke to the Greenwood Rotary Club on Tuesday.

Thomas Gregory

Gregory

A former chief administrative officer for the city of Greenwood, Gregory now helps with administration, advocacy work, fundraising and grant writing for the Mississippi Main Street Association.

The Jackson-based nonprofit organization seeks to assist and enhance the state’s  53 Main Street communities, including Greenwood.

Nationwide, there are 1,600  Main Street communities. Each falls under one of 42 Main Street coordinating programs, Gregory said.

Though downtowns used to be the commercial hub of many communities, the creation of highways and suburbs and increased automobile use following World War II “sucked more people out of the downtown areas, and with it, the vibrancy of a downtown community was lost,” Gregory said.  

Gregory presented photos from  downtowns with challenges. These included scenes from Greenwood, such as the vacant Antoon’s Department Store building at the corner of Carrollton Avenue and Main Street.

There are four main approaches   that Main Street associations across the country follow, Gregory said: Organization, design, promotion and economic vitality.

Main Street Greenwood assists local downtown businesses with projects such as exterior improvements. It helps businesses apply for state and federal tax credits following the completion of  historic renovation projects.

In addition, Main Street Greenwood helps put together downtown events, such as the annual Que on the Yazoo barbecue competition in May or its Brunch for Bricks fundraiser.

During 2018, Mississippi’s 53 Main Street communities helped create 247 new businesses, expanded 68 businesses, generated $43 million in public investments and $180 million in private investments, and created 1,225 new net jobs, Gregory said.

Mississippi’s small businesses “are making a real impact across the state,” he said.

There are several memberships within Mississippi Main Street Association. A designated community member, such as Greenwood’s Main Street, is the highest level.

In exchange for paying $20,000 in dues for its first three years of membership, as well as $2,650 in ongoing fees, designated community members receive the state’s Main Street Vision Plan, which provides members with resources and expertise to help Main Street members brand and market their downtown areas.

There are also associate and network community memberships, both which are building blocks toward becoming a designated member.

Mississippi Main Street Association is predominantly funded by membership dues and private investments, but it also generates revenue from private investments and events, Gregory said.

For the 2020 fiscal year, about 40% of the state’s Main Street Association is expected to come from membership dues, Gregory said. About 32% of the revenue will come from private investments; 17% will come from grants and 11% will come from events.

“The downtown is a part of the community,” Gregory said.

He suggested that people can support Main Street Greenwood by volunteering and becoming  members. He added that it also would be helpful to have one’s business support the state’s Main Street Association.

Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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