By Allen Turner
The third time was the charm as the City of Whiteville was notified Thursday that the municipality has been chosen as an “Associate Main Street” city by the N.C. Dept. of Commerce, an economic development program that will result in the city getting state help for a downtown facelift.
The program requires $5,000 in city funding, but the state will invest about $50,000 for the effort in on-site visits, training and technical assistance.
Whiteville had previously twice applied unsuccessfully for the program. City council decided in May to submit another application and last week’s notification was welcome news to Mayor Terry Mann.
“It’s been something we’ve been trying to get,” Mann said. “Before Gene Merritt resigned as director of the Whiteville Downtown Development Commission (WDDC), he made a concerted effort to get us into the program and his efforts paid off.”
Mann called the announcement a “double shot in the arm” when coupled with council’s decision to hire a full time economic development director for the town to replace Merritt. That position is being advertised and officials hope to have the person at work by October.
Merritt called the city’s acceptance into the program one leg of “a trifecta” that will benefit downtown Whiteville.
The other legs are the consolidation of the WDDC’s economic development program into city government and the establishment of historic districts in the city, applications for which have been approved by the state for submission to the federal government.
“This is called the Associate Main Street Program,” said Mann. “The state used to have what they called a Small Town Main Street program, but with budget cuts four or five years ago, they did away with that and started the associate program for small towns that have kind of a learning curve and a period to start doing some things. They come in at some point and re-evaluate you, and if you’ve done everything they think you would and you’ve met all your goals, then you get promoted into the regular Main Street program.”
The program gives smaller towns and cities resources to grow their downtowns. The consensus in Whiteville is that people want to keep the downtown area as the center of Whiteville, Town Manager Darren Currie told council in May before it approved the resubmission of the Associate Main Street program application to the state.
“We’re trying to keep that core in the downtown area,” Currie said. “We’ve got a beautiful depot. That’s kind of an attraction for downtown. It gets utilized for a tremendous amount of events. It brings people into downtown. We want to keep our downtown viable, not only to support the depot but also to support the businesses that already are there and hopefully to attract some more businesses to come into downtown.”