The City of Mebane is hosting a Vision Forum for its Downtown Main Street Program the evening of Tuesday, September 28 at the Mebane Arts and Community Center at 6:00 p.m.. The public is invited to come to the Vision Forum and provide their feedback on a wide range of ideas to improve downtown Mebane in the coming years.
Mebane has been in the process of establishing its Main Street Program, in conjunction with the N.C. Rural Planning Center, for the last two years. The subject of the N.C. Main Street Program first came formally before the City Council in April of 2019, when the City was in the midst of its budget planning for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
The City made the decision that spring to apply for membership as an Associate Community Program, which requires a three-year commitment before a town can become a full-fledged member of the N.C. Main Street Program. In the winter of 2019, Mebane, along with nearby Graham, were two of six towns across the state selected at that time to join the Associate Community Program. Once Mebane becomes a full member of the Main Street Program, they can utilize the organization’s resources to apply for grants and other benefits, such as tax breaks for economic development.
On September 25, 2020, the City held the first of its Main Street Associate Community Program meetings with N.C. Rural Planning Center staff, local downtown business owners and employees, and City staff, including Planning Director Cy Stober and other members of Mebane City management.
“We believe that it will be a tremendous program that will benefit not only our downtown, but our entire city,” Mebane Mayor Ed Hooks said back in the fall of 2020, as the Associate Community Program meetings were getting started. “We’re very excited to be chosen (for the Main Street Program). With this program, and with combined efforts and positive attitudes, this program will be a tremendous success. It will take hard work and from all parties to achieve its success. I want to thank the City Council for the support it gave this program, and the support it gave the (town) staff while we were working on the application for this program. The Main Street Rural and Planning Center works to inspire placemaking through asset-based economic development strategies that achieve measurable results such as investment, business growth, and jobs.”
Over the ensuing year, City staff and N.C. Rural Planning Center staff have had ongoing virtual meetings with various members of the Mebane downtown community to strategically plan. Mebane City and N.C. Rural Planning Center staff have been conducting Zoom meeting with the downtown business community to identify strengths and weaknesses of downtown Mebane, and areas in which the Main Street Program could add to the vitality and attractiveness of downtown Mebane.
“Downtown is Mebane. It’s prioritized throughout our plan. It’s the historic core of our city - culturally, socially, and economically,” Stober said. “And it still continues to be our cultural center, with a number of festivals throughout the year. The Dogwood Festival, Autumn Fest, and the Christmas Parade, as well as a number of monthly and weekly pop-up events that are almost entirely organized by the downtown community itself.”
In June, the City of Mebane selected Diane Young, a building contractor from Concord and longtime N.C. Main Street Program associate and advocate, as its interim Main Street Coordinator. Young is helping the City complete a series of tasks required by the N.C. Rural Planning Center in order to transition from the Associate Community Program to full membership as a Main Street Program.
At the upcoming September 28 Downtown Vision Forum, the City is seeking feedback from the Mebane community regarding downtown amenities, parking, congestion, ways to improve the accessibility and vitality of the downtown area, historical preservation, and possible future improvements, among other wide-ranging themes.
Members of the downtown business community, who have been involved with the City and the N.C. Rural Planning Center in the series of Zoom meetings over the past year, will host a collection of tables focused on specific topics. At these themed tables, Mebane residents will have an opportunity voice their thoughts on the various downtown-related issues.
“Downtown Mebane has a number of resources here. We have historic buildings. We have civic services,” Stober added. “We have a library that serves a larger community - the entire Alamance County community. It is a destination already. And we need to utilize those resources, and really expand their appeal beyond just the business community. These buildings have been here a long time, and are attractive to children, seniors, and families. And we need to make sure that when they’re here, they’re going to go in and get something to eat. If they’re coming to look for antiques, that they know they have city services, or some history in the city as well, that warrants a longer stay.”
“I know a lot of folks who just get off the interstate, and get right back on,” Mebane’s Planning Director continued. “We’d like them to come into town. A lot of our newer residents - particularly those who live south of the freeway - are not as aware of downtown as they should be. And so we need to increase this awareness. Downtown is the No. 1 growth priority strategy area in our plan. It is the focus of a number of our goals and adjectives within our Comprehensive Plan. It continues to be an area that staff is directing energy towards. We do have a lot of opportunities for historic preservation. Stories that are not that well-known about the histories of every single building downtown. You all in the downtown community have done a good job of finding those histories, telling some of those stories. We want to recognize that.”