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Main Street program keeps towns, cities focused and vital

 

By JACK WEATHERLY 

A wave of “urban renewal” left many American cities and towns with fewer historic buildings and a reduced sense of place.

A counter-movement has sought to reverse that trend and preserve history.

Main Street America was founded in 1980, and it soon found traction in Mississippi, a state long on history, and, in many places, short on economic vitality.

Vicksburg, Columbus, West Point, Meridian and Corinth were among the first Mississippi municipalities to qualify.

This year, there are among 47 participating in the program, according to the Mississippi Main Street Association.

But the effort goes far below the surface, and is much more than restoring facades, said Jeannie W. Zieren of the association.

In 2015, the Mississippi Main Street cities generated 178 net new businesses, expanded 49 existing businesses, created 1,695 net new jobs, along with 61 facade rehabs and 225 downtown residential units, according to the association.

Since 1993, the association has generated $4.9 billion in investments. Public money made up $2.2 billion of that from state and local government and historic tax credits.

State Historic Tax Credits were replenished this year after being exhausted in 2015. They and federal tax credits are crucial for the Main Street program, according to Zieren.

Unfortunately, non-revenue producing residential properties were not included in the state program this time, non-revenue producing residential properties, meaning association members such as Belhaven will have to do without.

One study shows that for every $1 in the credits, the return is $1.75.

For the 27th year, awards were given for one or more of the following design, promotions, organizations and economic vitality. Recipients were Starkville, Hattiesburg, Gulfport, Vicksburg, Laurel, Clinton, Cleveland, Kosciusko, Hernando, Carthage and Philadelphia.

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