Elizabethton debates a return to national Main Street Program

Published 11:41 am Thursday, November 1, 2018

As time passes, work is needed to keep historic downtown areas relevant and engaging to the public, but when the national Main Street Program left the state, Elizabethton was left without a way to provide for their downtown businesses. Now with Tennessee rejoining the program, the city is considering its return.

Planning and Development Director Jon Hartman said Tennessee originally joined the Main Street Program in the ’80s when it started.

“This is a national program, and we were an affiliate of the Tennessee branch,” Hartman said. “When the state cut the program, the affiliates could not get the training they needed, so it just dissolved.”

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He said the purpose of the program is to revitalise the historic downtown and commercial areas of cities that need them.

After Tennessee brought the program back a few years ago, many cities have been rejoining the program, and now Elizabethton has begun talks to do the same.

“The program is all grass-roots,” he said. “This means it is all community-driven and more hands-on, as opposed to a government program.”

Hartman said Elizabethton will have several public discussions about rejoining the program, the closest one scheduled for November 7 and 8. The first is more focused on citizens and their opinions, while the second will be directed primarily towards downtown businesses.

“The public is certainly welcome to attend either, of course,” Hartman said.

He said the purpose of these meetings is to inform people of what the program entails and its benefits and costs, as well as provide a platform for commentary on specific details of the program.

“We have to have community support,” he said. “Without it, the program will fall flat on its face.”

Hartman said the Main Street Program differs from the Downtown Association, because Main Street will provide a group that is focused daily on improving and renovating Elizabethton’s downtown.

He said the final decision will come in a few months. The city will have several public meetings about the Main Street Program in addition to the ones in early November.

Hartman said he often receives complaints and requests about downtown and what to do in order to improve it. He says the Main Street Program is a way for people to become directly involved in improving downtown Elizabethton.

“People will say ‘You need to do this’ or ‘You need to do that,’” he said. “Many times, I tell them ‘You need to get involved.’”

He said the success of the program requires the support of all of downtown.

“If you can’t make it, let me know,” he said. “We want your feedback.”