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Laurel named among the 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2018

The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2018

From Oregon Trail stops to Mister Rogers’ original neighborhood, these towns are worth seeing this year

 

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(Photo by Pancho Valladolid/Discover Kodiak)
SMITHSONIAN.COM 
 

There’s something about small towns that ignite our imaginations. Maybe it’s the charming main streets lined with century-old structures, now filled with artisan shops and cozy family-owned breakfast eateries, or the meandering rivers that run through downtown centers and majestic mountains that rise in the not-too-far distance, offering access to a world of activity. Or perhaps it’s one-of-a-kind museums, attractions and festivities that are brimming with hometown pride. This year, we’re not only highlighting towns that embrace all these qualities, but those that are also celebrating a milestone anniversary, marking a major historic event, or unveiling a new museum or festival (there’s even one town on the list that’s been completely transformed by a television show) that make visiting in 2018 particularly special

 

As in the past, we’ve once again turned to geographical information company Esri to help sort through the country’s many small towns (those with a population under 20,000). From there, we compiled a list of 20 that combine historic elements with distinct cultural offerings, natural beauty and everything from the country’s oldest whitewater rafting festival to legendary pirate lore.

 

Our 2018 list includes the Pennsylvania town that gave us Mr. Fred Rogers, a seaside hamlet that sits at the doorstep of Northern California’s coastal redwoods—the tallest living trees on Earth—and an Idaho resort town that’s been recognized for its clear night skies. Get ready to explore!

 

Laurel, Mississippi (Population: 18,355)
 

It’s been just over a year since Erin and Ben Napier, stars of HGTV’s “Home Town,” introduced their beloved Laurel, Mississippi, to the TV masses, and since then this Southern small town with big charm has taken off. Situated in southeast Mississippi’s Pine Belt, the former mill city and oil town is today known for its Oak-lined sidewalks, brick roadways and a splendid mix of innovative restaurants and specialty shops.

 

Laurel is home to A Street Car Named Desire’s fictional Blanche DuBois, as well as the Lindsey Eight-Wheeled Wagon, which native Mississippian John Lindsey manufactured at the town’s Lindsey Log Wagon Company during the turn-of-the-20th century (one is on display inside the Laurel Welcome Center). It’s also where you’ll find the Napiers’ own Laurel Mercantile, a shop that’s home to Scotsman Co., Ben’s own brand of hand-worked, reclaimed furniture and gentleman’s work apparel, as well as American-manufactured heirloom wares that often feature in the historic Laurel homes the couple restores.

 

At downtown’s Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, housed in a stunning, early 20th century Georgian Revival structure, works run the gamut from Hudson River School paintings to Japanese woodblock prints. The Laurel Little Theatre puts on community-led plays and musicals within a 1927 silent movie house.

 

Sip sour beers and “spontaneously fermented wild ales” at Slowboat Brewing Company, or dine on New Orleans-inspired gumbo at downtown’s signature Cafe la Fleur. For brown bag lunches of custom-cut meats paired with Knight Sugar Fudge, stop by Laurel’s Knight Butcher.

 

Each week through the end of June, experience Downtown Thursday, which combines an evening farmers market with a family-friendly outdoor movie night. Other community events range from October’s Loblolly heritage festival to the February Chili Cook-Off, where one type of ticket for the all-you-can-eat stew comes with a keepsake bowl made by a local potter.


Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/20-best-small-towns-visit-2018-180969125/#JrTTv2i5JMWp8jc0.99
 


Why are these Southern downtowns seeing a rebirth?

Why are these Southern downtowns seeing a rebirth?

 

Sarah Fowler and Justin Vicory, Mississippi Clarion Ledger

 
 

In downtowns across the South, residents and developers are coming together to change the landscape of their communities. From small towns to booming metropolises, downtowns are seeing a rebirth. But why? And maybe more importantly, how?

 

The series:downtown.clarionledger.com

Memphis

Although significantly larger in population than many Southern cities, Memphis with its developments often foreshadows overall trends in the South.

Memphis is rapidly expanding its downtown living space. It was recently named by Forbes as one of the top 15 cities in the country for emerging downtowns.

Large companies such as ServiceMaster have relocated to the downtown area, bringing more than 1,500 jobs with them, and the city is in overhaul mode trying to accommodate the influx of workers and residents, said Jennifer Oswalt, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission.

“One of the things these companies are asking for is more residential space downtown for these workers, and we can’t build hotels, or residential space quickly enough,” Oswalt said.

 

It begins with highlighting the indigenous arts and culture of the city's neighborhoods through art and music festivals. It's a strategy that cities both large and small in Mississippi can benefit from, says retired newspaper editor and reporter Mac Gordon.

 

"If you're trying to revitalize the downtown, it must include the arts in some fashion or it'll not work. We in Mississippi can do the arts, and they will come to see it if you build it," Gordon said. 

 

Memphis applied this philosophy to its hip South Main neighborhood, an Arts District with converted 1900s warehouses now home to bars, pubs, restaurants and vintage shops, and also the Edge neighborhood, which converted industrial buildings to residential and commercial spaces and focused on walkability with streetscape and crosswalk beautification efforts.

"There’s a strong effort to tell the tale of the neighborhood, to build a narrative. That attracts visitors but also those who already live here,” Oswalt said.

"We all want Memphis to grow but to grow in an authentic way," she said. 

 

Baton Rouge

 

In many ways, Baton Rouge is the gold standard for what can be done to revitalize the downtown area, provided a comprehensive, long-term plan is in place.

The city has attracted more than $2.4 billion in investments over the last 20 years, said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the city's Downtown Development District.

The city is also notable for its quick comparisons to Jackson. Both are capital cities, where the state’s Legislature is encompassed in the downtown area.

In Baton Rouge’s case, the city has merged several state offices into the downtown area. This has increased its population and its commerce, as workers relocated in many circumstances.

 

Like Jackson, Baton Rouge has an eye toward luring residents downtown.

Two development projects now underway would bring in a total 250 residential units in the Central Business District alone. The city is also poised to bring in its seventh hotel, a full-service grocery, and a bike-sharing program to go along with the addition of bicycle paths downtown. These efforts are accompanied by an emphasis on beautifying the city's green space. 

 

Additionally, restaurants and services have sprung up along with the car-sharing service Zipcar, which gives workers and residents the chance to rent cars by the hour and day.

“I firmly believe it's important to present stability and predictably. We want the private sector to have the confidence, from the financing to the risk takers, and we are able to show them a before and after picture of Baton Rouge," Rhorer said.

 

Montgomery

 

Montgomery, with a comparable population and demographics of Jackson, has succeeded in many areas where Jackson has failed.

 

Through a public-private partnership, the city brought in minor league baseball team the Montgomery Biscuits and built Riverwalk Stadium downtown. (In Mississippi, Pearl gained the Mississippi Braves and Trustmark Park.) The nearby Riverwalk, which has an amphitheater, increased Montgomery’s traffic flow almost overnight. Efforts are now underway to extend the Riverwalk to the east, said Jocelyn Zangot, Montgomery's urban planner.

 

Also close by, the city has put energy into beautifying and manicuring a stretch of downtown property known as “The Alley,” where visitors can enjoy bars and the “farm to table” Central Restaurant. 

 

Elsewhere, Montgomery continues to bring in hotels to accommodate additional traffic to the downtown area and transformed its old civic center into a modern convention center with the 342-room Renaissance Hotel and Spa to host convention visitors.  

 

Now that the city has had success drawing residents to the downtown area by bringing in a "mixed-range" of market-priced apartments and lofts, Zangot said it's expanding its scope from the Riverwalk to once flourishing inner-city neighborhoods. 

 

"Getting it back to life has been a fundamental focus, a 20-year process," Zangot said of Montgomery's downtown revitalization effort. "We want to have entertainment, maybe not 24/7, but have an after-work life flowing again. That definitely requires people living downtown and having events, programming for them," Zangot said.  

 

Small town, Mississippi

 

Jan Miller, executive director of the Mississippi Main Street Association, said downtowns across Mississippi are growing to meet increasing demand.

 

She referenced the smaller towns of Columbus, Clinton, Tupelo and Water Valley. 

 

Tupelo has a zero percent vacancy rate of downtown businesses while the college town of Clinton has seen an increase in foot traffic downtown since it added a locally owned coffee shop. Antique shops, a bookstore and downtown housing soon popped up as well. 

 

"That little community has grown," said Miller of Clinton.

 

"It's big and the downtown has thrived since they focused on putting good, solid entrepreneurial businesses into those spaces and really figured out who they were and what they were doing."

 

Water Valley has seen a revival almost overnight, Miller said. Folks who wanted to live near Oxford but were feeling a strain at the cost of living began moving into the bedroom community. One by one, businesses began popping up downtown, she said, and now, the main drag is home to a brewery, a hardware store and a drug store. It still has the classic feel of a downtown but is also a flourishing art scene. 

 

Columbus, she said, is an example of what can happen when developers provide a selection of downtown living space. To date, the city of 24,500 has 175 apartments downtown, which is huge for the area, Miller said. 

 

The apartments, combined with restaurants and a bakery, retail spaces, an art gallery, a spa and law offices, have all contributed to a thriving downtown scene.

 

"Columbus has been a good example of bringing people downtown, having events, making things happen," she said. 

 

Barbara Bigelow, executive director of Main Street Columbus, said the downtown apartments have largely contributed to the city's viability. In addition to retail and restaurant options, downtown residents are within walking distance of a YMCA, a riverwalk, soccer complex and a farmer's market. 

 

"In this day, people are looking for walkability and convenience and these are both key to downtown living," Bigelow said. 

 

If smaller towns have seen a rebirth of their downtowns, Miller is confident Jackson, the largest city in the state, will have the same success. Transformations can take time, she said, but noted Downtown Jackson Partners has taken the steps to have all of the necessary things — "design, promotion, economic vitality and organization" — in place.

 

"Once we get those businesses in (downtown), we work really hard to help them stay healthy and people start to realize that downtown is a safe place," she said. "There are so many communities out there that have proven over and over that that can be done. 

 

"We talk about the heart of the community, well, Jackson is the heart of the state. When we go through this revitalization of our No. 1 city in the state, it will affect everything that we do. It starts right there in Jackson."

 

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The Developments


Miss. Main Street Announces 2018 Award Winners

MISSISSIPPI MAIN STREET ANNOUNCES  2018 AWARD WINNERS
 
June 21, 2018 - JACKSON, Miss. - The Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA) celebrated achievements of Mississippi Main Street Communities at the 29th Annual Awards Luncheon in downtown Jackson. 

MMSA Board President Ed Gardner and MMSA Past President Allison Beasley presented awards to recipients from local Main Street programs throughout the state.

The annual awards luncheon honors Main Street directors, board members and volunteers and recognizes the most outstanding downtown development projects from Main Street communities in Mississippi. 

The 2018 Award Recipients are: 
 
Award Name of Entry (Project or Individual) Community Accepting Award
Premier Partner Northwest Community College Senatobia Main Street Julie R. Bauer
Outstanding Creative Fundraising Cleveland Bites Food Festival Team Cleveland Main Street Tasha Huerta
Outstanding Marketing Que on the Yazoo Marketing Campaign Main Street Greenwood Megan Slaughter/Brantley Snipes
Outstanding Community Education Campaign (2) How Downtown Main Street Greenwood Brantley Snipes
Vicksburg Heritage Walking Trails Vicksburg Main Street Kim Hopkins
Creative New Event (2) Mini Wine Downtown and Shopping Tournament Downtown Tupelo Main Street  Craig Helmuth
Hattiesburlesque Historic Downtown Hattiesburg  Abigail Lenz-Allen and Rebecca Chandler
Outstanding Retail Promotion Sit, Stay, Play, Greenwood Main Street Greenwood Brantley Snipes
Outstanding Image Promotion (2) Meet Me on Main Street Main Street Clinton Jonathan Nutt
Downtown Greenwood Promo Video Main Street Greenwood Matthew Moore/Brantley Snipes
Outstanding Historic Rehabilitation Project Starkville Police Department Starkville Main Street Chief Frank Nichols
Outstanding Public Improvement Project (2) Russell Street Corridor - Entrance to Downtown Starkville Starkville Main Street Michelle Jones
Crosby Commons Picayune Main Street Jim Luke
Outstanding Visual Merchandising Project The Lucky Rabbit Historic Downtown Hattiesburg  Abbey & Brandon Thaxton
Outstanding New Development Project Brady's Steak and Seafood Pascagoula Main Street Steven Brady & Chad Brady
Outstanding Adaptive Reuse Project The Burton's Building Laurel Main Street Josh Nowell
Outstanding Economic Impact Cottonwood Public House Vicksburg Main Street Tim Cantwell
Outstanding New Business The Steel Forest Furniture Company Columbus Main Street Chip  and Maureen Gerber
Outstanding Community Transformation - Medium Size town Laurel, Mississippi Laurel Main Street Lew Yoder
Outstanding Community Transformation - Small Town  Water Valley, Mississippi Water Valley Main Street Jeff Bynum
Main Street Trailblazer Dr. David L. Beckley Holly Springs Main Street Chamber Dr. David L. Beckley
Merchant of the Year Lott Furniture Company Laurel Main Street Rodney Rowell
Outstanding Director of the Year Kay Miller Biloxi Main Street Kay Miller
Main Street Hero Michelle Jones Starkville Main Street Michelle Jones
Mayor George Flaggs Vicksburg Main Street Mayor George Flaggs
Jim Luke Picayune Main Street Jim Luke
Mallorie Rasberry Laurel Main Street Mallorie Rasberry
Penny Frazier Senatobia Main Street Penny Frazier
Dawn Edwards Hernando Main Street Dawn Edwards
Becky Nowell Team Cleveland Main Street Becky Nowell
Bob Luke Meridian Main Street Bob Luke
Doug Pellum Columbus Main Street Doug Pellum
Mayor Dane Maxwell Pascagoula Main Street Mayor Dane Maxwell
Award of Service Allison Beasley SMPDD Allison Beasley
Award of Service Ken P'Pool MDAH Ken P'Pool 

"This is the Mississippi Main Street Association’s most important event of the year," said Ed Gardner, MMSA Board President. "It gives us an opportunity to meet with and celebrate the local directors and investors throughout the state that are doing the hard work of making our downtown districts more competitive, successful and sustainable."

"We are thrilled to honor our economic development and preservation heroes in Mississippi's downtowns," Gardner said.

Since 1993, Mississippi Main Street Association has generated more than $5 billion in private and public investment (including more than $1.2 billion in public investment).

In 2017, Mississippi Main Street programs generated 325 net new businesses, 95 business expansions to existing businesses, 1,458 net new jobs, 109 façade rehabilitations and 86 downtown residential units. 
 
MMSA currently has 48 active Main Street cities throughout the state, six Downtown Network members, and numerous Associate, Allied professional members, and Friends of Main Street. 
 

Mississippi Main Street to Celebrate 29th Annual Awards, June 21 in Jackson

Mississippi Main Street to Celebrate 29th Annual Awards, June 21 in Jackson
 
The Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA) will celebrate the achievements of Mississippi Main Street communities and member towns at its Annual Awards Meeting and luncheon on Thursday, June 21 at the Old Capitol Inn in downtown Jackson.
 
The luncheon will begin at 11:30 a.m. followed by the annual meeting and awards ceremony.

During the luncheon, a presentation of awards will be made in the categories of design, economic vitality, organization and promotion, as well as special individual awards. This year's awards sponsors are LPK Architects, Renovations of Mississippi and neonFROG, inc.
 
"This is the Mississippi Main Street Association’s most important event of the year," said Allison Beasley, MMSA President. "It gives us an opportunity to meet with and celebrate the local directors and investors throughout the state that are doing the hard work of making our downtown districts more competitive, successful and sustainable."
 
"We are so excited to be able to honor our economic development and preservation heroes in Mississippi's downtowns," Beasley said.
 
The awards presentation will be made by MMSA staff and board members. The annual awards luncheon honors Main Street directors, board members and other volunteer leaders and recognizes the most outstanding nominees in downtown development from Main Street communities in Mississippi. 
 
Before the Annual Awards Meeting, a preservation training in Real Estate Development of Historic Properties will be held from 8:30-11 a.m. at the William Winter Archives and History Building. The training is geared to Main Street directors and members but it also open to anyone interested in downtown revitalization. 

Since 1993, Mississippi Main Street Association has generated more than $5 billion in private and public investment (including more than $1.2 billion in public investment). 
 
In 2017, Mississippi Main Street programs generated 325 net new businesses, 95 business expansions to existing businesses, 1,458 net new jobs, 109 façade rehabilitations and 86 downtown residential units. 
 
MMSA currently has 48 active Main Street cities throughout the state, six Downtown Network members, and numerous Associate, Allied professional members, and Friends of Main Street. 
 
###
 
Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA) has been improving the quality of life in Mississippi for more than 30 years by developing Mississippi's downtowns. Main Street is an economic development program based in historic preservation. The mission of the Mississippi Main Street Association is to provide visionary leadership, guidance and counsel to Mississippi Main Street communities through organization, promotion, design and economic development to make our cities and towns better places to work, live and play. Since 1993, MMSA has generated more than $5.2 billion in private and public investment (including nearly $1.3 billion in public investment), 36,996 net new jobs, 5,673 net new businesses, rehabilitated 3,298 buildings and added 2,921 downtown residential units. MMSA is a coordinating program of the National Main Street Center, with many public and private partners.
 
 
 
To make reservations for the awards luncheon, go to: 
https://form.jotform.com/81276809718165.
 
To register for preservation training, go to 
https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0945aea928a3f94-mississippi.
 
A news release with a list of award winners will be sent June 21 immediately following the awards ceremony. Media are invited to attend the Annual Awards meeting. 

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P.O. Box 55747 | Jackson, MS 39296
Phone: 601/944-0113
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