The town’s Economic Development Steering Committee got a more in-depth look at the opportunities of joining the national Main Street program during its Aug. 16 session.
Whether Leesburg should reinstate a Main Street program was part of the Town Council’s spring budget debate and, eventually, the catalyst for forming the panel to look at Leesburg’s overall business development strategy.
Stephanie Wilkerson, executive director of Main Street Lexington, and Lexington City Manager Noah Simon shared their experiences, and Kyle Meyer, community revitalization manager for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, joined the conversation by phone. Wilkerson said the city had a Main Street program from 1986 to 2006, but fell off during the economic boom time. By 2013, the economy was very different and the city lacked a cohesive downtown business environment. After re-launching the program that year, vacancy rates dropped from 14 percent to 2 percent.
“Main Street make my life a lot easier,” Simon said, noting the organization often acts as the city’s economic development arm. He said the return on investment for the city’s contribution is “huge.”
“There’s no negative issues. This is all positive,” he said. “Our wheels are always turning, always working collaboratively.”
A panel of downtown business owners—Mom’s Apple Pie’s Avis Renshaw, Lightfoot’s Carrie Gustavson Whitmer and Butch Porter of IndED Academies— offered mixed reviews of the concept.
Porter said he opposed an effort to create a downtown management authority and that the area was doing well and not in need of revitalization. Renshaw and Gustavson said that businesses do need help, noting concerns about zoning controls and the opportunities for coordinated marketing campaigns. The trio was united on one issue, that events that require the closure of downtown streets should be avoided.