By NASH NUNNERY
Finding a small town in Mississippi might be akin to bees discovering honey – it’s not hard to do. Many of those communities have distinctive downtown thoroughfares, chock full of awe-inspiring historical architecture, eclectic businesses and hometown pride. Time seems to have forgotten others.
And a select few are Mississippi Main Street Association-certified.
For the uninitiated, MMSA is a comprehensive revitalization program that promotes the historic and economic revitalization of traditional business districts in the state. According to the National Main Street Center website, the movement collectively is the nation’s leading voice for preservation-based economic development and community revitalization.
With less than a year on the job, MMSA executive director and state coordinator Stacy Pair said her first few months have been rewarding but not without challenges.
“We’ve made a few organizational changes making us a leaner, meaner machine,” she said. “Communicating with stakeholders and boards about the needs in our communities, and convening a focus group with Main Street directors across the state has been fruitful.
“Jan Miller (director of field services) and Jeannie Zieren (director of training and information services) have been outstanding in helping craft a great strategic plan.”
Mississippi Main Street’s impact is felt throughout the state. A few examples:
• Since 2010, 32 new businesses have opened in Gulfport’s downtown district
• Tourism spending in Starkville/Oktibbeha County increased from $74 million in 2011 to $86 million in 2014
• Prior to becoming a Main Street program, Pascagoula had 11 vacant buildings downtown. Today, the area known as Anchor Square features 13 retailers and two office buildings
Though Pair would like to add to the list of 52 Mississippi communities that are currently Main Street certified, she’s in no rush – the intent is quality over quantity.
“Over the last few weeks, there have been five other communities contact us for consideration of certification,” Pair said. “I don’t want to put a number on it as far as having a certain number of cities (certified) as a goal for the end of the year.”
The certification process takes about a year and can be quite demanding. MSM staff members collaborate with interested cities and towns, making sure they have a sustainable budget and proper training. A selection panel judges the process and eventually decides whether a community is ready for certification.
“It can be a long and tedious process,” said Pair. “We don’t want to set them up for failure. Mississippi Main Street takes a comprehensive approach – we want those cities to be ready.”
The cost of certification is $10,000 for the first year and tapers down to $2,000 annually after the fourth year. Designated Main Street communities also receive an approximated value of $25,000 in technical assistance during the first year alone. Since 1993, MMSA has provided more than $4 billion in public and private re-investment.
Saltillo is the latest Mississippi city to be declared Main Street certified. The small community near Tupelo became the 52nd member of the Mississippi Main Street Association in March. Additionally, Saltillo joins a network of some 1,800 Main Street members across the nation.
Mayor Rex Smith said that becoming a certified Main Street community will unite his town of 4,500.
“Folks here talk about ‘old’ Saltillo and ‘new’ Saltillo,” he said. “That bothers me. I want it to be one Saltillo. We’re going to work hard to make things happen.”
Pair believes the important role that historical preservation plays in the Main Street program sometimes gets lost.
“Main Street is one of the best economic development engines out there,” she said. “But it’s really about historical preservation. Our partnerships with Mississippi Heritage Trust and the National Trust for Historical Preservation are invaluable. History and a sense of place bonds communities, from the garden club ladies to city officials.”
Prior to becoming executive director, Pair served as MMSA’s Southern District director, working with 21 certified Main Street associations from Jackson to Gulfport. Immediately following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she served as chair of former governor Haley Barbour’s Mississippi Gulf Coast Preservation Task Force.
“Helping restore our Gulf Coast’s historic districts hit so hard by Katrina was wonderfully satisfying,” Pair said. “I hope to focus on in-the-field services and work closely with our Main Street directors, investors and partners to identify needs in our communities all across the state."
“We are all on the same page and working as a team.”
Mississippi Business Journal
By TED CARTER
Restorations and conversions of historic buildings across Mississippi stalled when the state ran out of historic tax credits are back in motion with the Legislature’s $60 million replenishment of the credits.
The $60 million allocation is for five years and limits the state credits to $12 million annually. Unlike the initial $60 million allocation in 2006, the new round of credits excludes non-revenue producing residential properties.
Restoring the money comes as a relief to the Mississippi Heritage Trust, which in October listed the preservation credits among the state’s 10 Most Endangered Places along with such historic structures as the French Hotel in Senatobia, Margaret’s Grocery in Vicksburg and Phoenix Naval Stores Office in Gulfport.
“Certainly, we are very glad the Legislature funded the historic tax credits,” said Lolly Barnes, Heritage Trust executive director, in an interview last week.
Barnes noted the new allocation will allow developers to move forward with commercial projects such as conversion of the vacant Eastland Federal Courthouse in downtown Jackson to mixed-use and the conversion of the former Veterans Hospital in Gulfport to a resort hotel and mixed-use development.
Loss of the credits in 2015 put a $2.7 million gap in the equity for the Gulfport project just as the construction loan was closing, said co-developer Neal Juneau in an interview last fall.
Property owners and developers whose projects qualify for the credits can use them to defray 25 percent of the cost, primarily for construction, of a historic preservation. They become especially attractive when combined with the 20 percent federal historic tax credits.
Hayes Dent, principal of Dent Strategies, helped lobby for the new credits. He said the state will get a strong economic return on its investment. But he expects the $12 million cap on yearly allocations to destabilize overall restoration efforts, considering the multi-year undertaking most restorations involve.
“It is hard for me in my mind to grasp why they want to limit that,” Dent said in an interview.
Legislators were unwilling to say why they insisted on limiting the allocations, according to Dent. He agreed they may have wanted to ensure the credits would last for their five-year authorization.
“We hope we can continue to work with legislators and educate them on the importance of historic tax credits and how they can grow the economy” he said, citing research that shows Mississippi gets back $1.75for each dollar it invests in historic preservation.
The state’s $60 million credits generated $269 million in building rehab expenditures since their inception in 2006 and a total economic output of $432.5 million, according to an economic impact report prepared by Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development.
While Dent figures a number of projects are already certified for the credits and will soon begin taking them, he said he thinks the amount of credits available will be sufficient to allow new commercial projects to move into the pipeline.
Recipients do not get the credits until the project is completed, but credits are designated as eligibility milestones are met.
Like Dent, Jim Woodrick, director of historic preservation for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, expects the tax credit allocation is sufficient to allow new projects to move from the drawing boards to actual construction. “Of course there will be room,” he said.
The last $60 million credit lasted 10 years, he noted. So it “does not make sense that the new cap” would be reached in five years, Woodrick added.
The Hertz Investment Group plans to promptly seek certification for preservation credits that are a key to converting downtown Jackson’s Regions Building, once the home of Deposit Guaranty, to apartments. The project is not yet certified, but “we absolutely are working on that,” said Jim Ingram, Hertz executive vice president and chief investment officer.
Barnes, the Heritage Trust chief, said the decision to keep non-revenue producing residential restorations from eligibly diminishes an holistic approach to preserving Mississippi’s past. “It’s very disappointing because we need to look at our historic communities as a whole,” she said. “That was the one incentive we had to offer people who buy and take on these historic homes.”
Dent said he expects the exclusion of single-family dwellings from the historic tax credits will have particular impacts in such historic cities as Vicksburg and Natchez.
The Vicksburg Post
By Alana Norris
Downtown is full of small businesses, and this week those businesses are being highlighted nationally.
This first week of May marks National Small Business Week sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The Vicksburg Main Street Program has joined in on the fun by showing webinars created by the Small Business Administration.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our community,” said Kim Hopkins, executive director of the Vicksburg Main Street Program. “Our town is rich in history and great for tourism, but the small businesses are the viability of our town. Small Business Week gives us the opportunity to honor our numerous small businesses in our community and renew our commitment to promoting all those in our community with the entrepreneurial and business spirit.”
The webinars have been viewed in Main Street’s temporary office in the City Hall annex, 1401 Walnut St., every day this week. The final hour-long, interactive webinar is at 2 p.m. Thursday and is titled “Tips for Getting Your Business Financially Fit” sponsored by Intuit Quickbooks.
“[We] invite any business owner or entrepreneur to come and watch the webinar and learn more about small businesses financially and any other local assistance we can be of to anyone,” Hopkins said.
The speaker for the webinar will be John Shapiro, director of product management and payments for Intuit Quickbooks. This webinar will discuss the importance of understanding the fiscal condition of a business —which is more than knowing how much is in the bank—when planning the future, overseeing daily duties and making important decisions.
Other webinars held this week covered voluntary benefits, the decline of magstripe cards, apps and services that will help grow a business, and capital and business loans.
“These webinars give business owners the opportunity to take a step back from their daily business and connect with other small business owners and gain inspiration from others from all over the nation,” Hopkins said.
She said it’s always important to promote and support local businesses.
“Not only this week, but every time you are shopping remember to always try to pay it forward and love your locals,” Hopkins said.
For more information, visit sba.gov/nsbw.
Carly Wilbanks of New Albany, MS, has been named the director of the New Albany Main Street Association.
The New Albany Main Street Association was designated a Mississippi Main Street Community in 1997. The Mississippi Main Street Association focuses on economic development and revitalization of Mississippi's historic business districts.
Wilbanks attended Northeast Mississippi Community College and Mississippi State University earning a Bachelor of Science in Educational Psychology. During her time at MSU, Wilbanks served as the secretarial assistant to Dr. Byron Williams. In 2015, Wilbanks worked at Pacifica Enterprises, Inc. in Rancho Santa Fe, CA as the administrative assistant to the chief financial officer and was most recently employed at Rutledge and Davis, P.L.L.C.
"Carly brings a wealth of knowledge of planning and executing projects and events," said Bob Spencer, president of the New Albany Main Street Association board of directors. "She is a great fit for this position."
Wilbanks served as the event coordinator for the Special Olympics at MSU and has experience in retail sales and fundraising. She is engaged to Van Cooper of New Albany.
Since New Albany was designated as a Mississippi Main Street Community, over $1.6 million in private investments and nearly $9 million in public investment have been reported. While the financial investment is an important component, Main Street programs are better known for improving quality of life for communities. Downtown revitalization promotes restoring those places that make New Albany unique that people connect to as well as fostering a vibrant business climate in the historic core of the town. Downtown is often referred to as the heart of the town, the part that encourages newcomers to visit or move to and locals choose to remain here.
In addition to being named one of the top Main Street programs in the state, the New Albany Main Street Association boasts one of the lowest vacancy rates state-wide and contributed to 92 new businesses and 227 new jobs. Over 10,000 volunteer hours have been logged and 51 buildings improved. The New Albany Main Street Association is a community partner with the Magnolia Civic Center, Union County Historical Museum, Junior Auxiliary, Biscuits and Jam Farmer's Market, Union County Development Association, New Albany Tourism, and numerous organizations. Some of the many visible projects as a result of the New Albany Main Street Association's efforts include decorative lighting, banners, landscaping, the Tanglefoot Trail plaza, benches, trash receptacles, Cooper Park design and maintenance, and decorative street signs.
For more information about the New Albany Main Street Association, please call (662) 534-3438.