The City of Mebane hosted a Downtown Vision Forum for its Main Street Program on Tuesday, September 28 at the Mebane Arts and Community Center (MACC). The meeting allowed citizens the opportunity to play a big role in shaping the future and direction of the city’s downtown.
The meeting began with Mebane Development Director Cy Stober introducing the city’s new contracted Main Street Coordinator, Diane Young, a building contractor from Concord and longtime N.C. Main Street Program associate and advocate.
“I just want to welcome all of you and thank you for taking the time out of your evening to be here tonight,” Young said. “This [meeting] is going to be extremely valuable in developing a work plan as Mebane Main Street moves forward.
Young is tasked with helping the City of Mebane meet requirements that the NC Rural Planning Center has set as prerequisites for membership in the Main Street Program.
Also present at last Tuesday’s meeting were Sherry Adams and Chuck Halsall, both downtown programming and technical assistance coordinators with the state’s Rural Planning Center. Adams works in eastern North Carolina, while Halsall works in the western part of the state.
Young said Adams and Halsall are “terrific resources” who have guided the city up to the point of the meeting and will continue to do so as Mebane moves forward in the Main Street process.
Mebane Mayor Pro Tem Jill Auditori then spoke, first thanking all of those who came to the meeting before reminding everyone of why they were in attendance.
“I think it’s important that we recognize our common goal as we continue along this process – a goal that is creating a thriving and prosperous downtown,” Auditori said. “While we may not always agree on the way to get there, I think we need to keep in mind that what unites us is a common goal of creating a more prosperous downtown is greater than the things that we might not agree on.”
Auditori noted the Mebane City Council, with significant input from the community, put together a Downtown Vision Plan in 2018 and that, since then, the city has invested over $100,000 in downtown infrastructure projects. The Main Street Program process formally began in Mebane in August 2020.
“Since then, the city has been coordinating the North Carolina Main Street staff and downtown stakeholders to get the city on track for the Main Street accreditation…” Auditori said. “The program focuses on a four-point approach that optimizes design, economic vitality, organization and promotion.”
She noted that the city has already started on the promotion aspect with the digital billboard off I-40/85 advertising downtown and its seasonal events.
The goal of the meeting is to help create a vision statement for Downtown Mebane – also called economic positioning statement – Sherry Adams said.
“It’s the position that the organization takes to move the downtown revitalization goals and objectives forward,” Adam said. “So, we’re going to think in terms of what are two to three economic development strategies that you want to see for downtown, based on the authentic assets that you have in your community.”
Adams added that the goals should be attainable within five years and should be based in reality as well as off assets the city already has or can easily attain.
Then the roughly 40 attendees were split into six groups and tasked with deciding which economic, government, cultural, natural/recreational and community assets should be emphasized and built upon during the Main Street process. The group also performed a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis on Downtown Mebane.
Each group was placed at a table, with a table monitor at each who was tasked with helping attendees work through what assets Mebane should prioritize and build from.
The table monitors were: Teresa Dallas, Barbara Guttman, Steven Krans, Sugaree Thornton, Adam Powell, Dan Shannon, Kat Mathias. Judy Taylor assisted Cy Stober in moderating the virtual attendees.
Some of Mebane’s economic assets identified by the six groups were: the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (which runs directly through downtown), its restaurants and breweries, its proximity to Tanger Outlets, industrial complexes and the Mebane Antique Auction Gallery, its nightlife variety and its antique stores.
Some of the government assets identified were the Mebane Recreation and Parks department, the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), the Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee (RPAC).
Some cultural assets talked about were: Mebane’s history, the Mebane Historical Museum, the Woodlawn School downtown festivals, the Mebane Train Display and Mebane’s musicians.
The community assets listed were the Mebane Business Association (MBA), the numerous downtown churches and the proximity of Elon University and Alamance Community College’s to downtown.
Natural and recreational assets outlined were Lake Michael Park, Graham-Mebane Lake, Buffaloe Lanes bowling alley and free parking.
Next, each group went through their SWOT analyses. The combined strengths, weaknesses, opportunities outlined by all groups are listed in the following paragraphs. Some
Strengths: Mountains-to-Sea Trail, beauty of downtown, markets, promotion of independent locally owned businesses which are 95% woman-owned, nightlife variety, Recreation and Parks department, wealth of musicians in town.
Weaknesses: downtown vacancies, lack of variety in types of stores, resistance to change, lack of walkability south of railroad tracks as well as from downtown’s adjoining neighborhoods, lack of food options especially at night, discord between downtown businesses/organizations, underdeveloped areas nearby; a lack of distinct culture.
Opportunities: establishing a business directory and a localized group to provide information to newcomers and tourists; more uniformity and consistency in business hours; more communication between businesses; opening an old school hardware store downtown; more eclectic shops; more festivals with greater variety; more embracing of White’s Furniture, the railroad, Mebane’s history; apply for more grants, seek out investors for downtown revitalization.
Threats: expanding too quickly; lack of communication strategy between downtown and new residents and tourists; opening more bars; increased housing in downtown impacting downtown lifestyle; residents getting more of a say in noise limits, business hours than businesses; the opening of the 119 Bypass (can also be considered an opportunity, as more people will come closer to downtown); constant negativity on Facebook and other social media; the Dollar General, because it’s an eye sore and doesn’t add to the charm of downtown.
Several attendees took issue with the idea of Dollar General being a threat to downtown. “[Dollar General] provides a service to Downtown Mebane that we can’t get anywhere else,” one resident said.
Next, the six groups were told to craft a sentence or two that captures the strategies Mebane should employ over the next five years.
“When you’re thinking about these strategies, you want to make sure that they’re something that is feasible within five years, something that builds on your current assets and something that, basically, is going to identify you from the other communities in your area,” Halsall said.
Each group formulated a statement, which was then read aloud, and attendees then chose which statements they liked best. Those statements, and all other work done by the groups, will be analyzed by Main Street Program staff to look for a “common thread.”
“[We’re going to] take a look at all the things that were developed tonight, written down in the SWOT analysis, in the economic assets and use that,” Adams said. “So, at the end of the day, this statement will be written with you all collectively. When we boil it down, each one of you will have touched this statement. When that plan comes about each one of you, I hope, will get involved and help Diane move this forward in the next five years.”
The meeting was then ended. The information gathered from it will be used by Mebane’s Main Street Coordinator and the Rural Planning Center to establish a plan for the city for the coming years.