- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Visitors and locals alike have noticed Greenville’s resurgent downtown.

Facades are being replaced; tenants are occupying buildings; and festivals are being born in the heart of the city.

Greenville’s downtown looks alive, and it’s in part because of Main Street Greenville. The organization has worked to create a sense of excitement when it comes to revitalizing and rejuvenating the city’s historic downtown.

“We have to create excitement and a feeling of ‘yeah, it’s great. You can have fun in Greenville. Maybe I can bring a business downtown,’” said Main Street Greenville executive director Betty Lynn Cameron one afternoon in her Washington Avenue office.

The organization, a program of the Greater Greenville Development Foundation and a state and nationally accredited Main Street Program, has spent the past five or so years improving the visual appearance of the city’s downtown and establishing a community atmosphere.

Cameron said she, the board of directors and other volunteers have made an effort to reach out and work with local residents and downtown business owners.

“Main Street can’t do it by itself. It has to be done in cooperation with business owners, property owners and the city. This is a team effort,” she said, adding several of the programs are in partnership with or with support from the Mississippi Main Street and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The Main Street approach to downtown revitalization was developed more than four decades ago by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which saw a continuous decline in a sense of community and a loss of historic commercial architecture.

In the end of the 1970s, the Trust developed a model for historic preservation in downtown Greenville. That model continues today as Main Street Greenville and its volunteers address organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring.

Because Greenville’s downtown is long and narrow - not a traditional downtown square, as seen in Oxford and Cleveland - Cameron began by establishing design teams and creating a community atmosphere in different city blocks.

“When I first came here, as director, the primary focus was to make downtown look better. It looked like a third-world country with torn up streets and dilapidated buildings,” Cameron said.

One way to improve downtown by working with business and property owners is through the Greenville Rising Program, headed by Leigh Harris and Beth Mansour.

“Two or three years ago, we started it and contacted property owners to try and help them fix up the facade of their building,” Harris said.

“We are trying to improve downtown because we don’t feel like people want to move or businesses to come to a town that doesn’t have a great downtown.”

Recent projects, which are in part funded from the Greenville Challenge that took place in 2009-10, include working with property and business owner Bobby Dadlani to improve the facade on the Leyser Building.

Main Street Greenville and the Greenville Rising Program last fall also honored Dominic Tominello, the owner of Delta Teaching Supply, for work done on his century-old Washington Avenue building. Tominello replaced the roof, added a brick facade and black metal canopy at his business thanks to the organization’s Downtown Facade Grant Program, which is designed to give Greenville buildings encouragement and financial assistance to enhance downtown storefronts.

“It’s been a great project. It’s been awesome to see the before and after, just to see the magnitude of the little bit we have done,” Harris said.

To make Main Street and Washington Avenue more appealing, volunteers with the Greenville Rising Program worked with the city’s garden clubs to paint murals on vacant buildings and re-painted or touched up the fronts of other buildings, she said.

“The murals - local artist Charlene Louwerens gave her time to paint about 10 murals - gave an instant, visual positive affect on the empty buildings,” Cameron said.

The work Main Street Greenville has done - and is doing - in downtown Greenville has not gone unnoticed.

Rebecca Goodman, co-owner of S. Goodman Department store, a business that has been a fixture in downtown Greenville since 1902, said downtown looks welcoming as it is no longer an “eye sore.”

“Main Street Greenville has been instrumental in redoing and painting the facades of so many of the buildings downtown,” she said.

“The view of downtown is easier on the eye and looks much nicer than years ago. We at S. Goodmans, like so many other business owners, are proud to be a part of this great revitalization of downtown Greenville.”

While Main Street Greenville is focused on fixing facades, one of its other priorities is developing Stein Mart Square.

The once overlooked lot with overgrown grass and weeds sprouting up in the cracks of a concrete slab at the corner of Washington Avenue and Poplar Street has transformed into a flagship space for the city.

The creation of Stein Mart Square, the brainchild of late mayor Chuck Jordan and his administration along with Main Street Greenville, has been a focal point in downtown Greenville since 2012.

The first phase of the square, which is no bigger than a half-block, was completed in time for the inaugural Delta Hot Tamale Festival, and the second phase is set to begin soon, Cameron said.

The square will be expanded in the second phase and features will be added, though Cameron said plans do not include having playground equipment.

“We have some good ideas,” she said, though not wanting to give too much away.

Several Main Street Greenville events, including the Delta Hot Tamale Festival and Greenville Christmas Parade Extravaganza have been centered around the square, which is funded by the Hot Tamale Festival and other fundraising efforts.

Main Street Greenville is also involved with the Delta Dragon Boat Races, which proved to be successful in its inaugural year, the Farmers’ Market, Fourth of July celebration, the Mississippi Scholars program, which aims to motivate eighth and ninth graders to take on more challenging courses, and the Greenville Education Foundation, which awards scholarships to graduating seniors through private funds.

“The Delta Dragon Boat Festival and Hot Tamale are growing and really creating a productive avenue for the progression of the greater downtown area,” Cameron said.

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Information from: Delta Democrat-Times, https://www.ddtonline.com

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