Street Talk by Mickey Howley, Water Valley Main Street
North Mississippi Herald
February 19th starting at 2:00 pm there will be an Open House event for the newly re-habilitated Blu-Buck Mercantile buildings on Main Street. If you give a hoot about downtown Water Valley, you should come.
Back in operation are 20,000 square feet of historic downtown commercial spaces. The renovation of 4 buildings, street numbers 420 to 428 and their transition from collapsing derelict ruins to colorful apartments and retail spaces took slightly over a year.
While the buildings date back to the Valley’s first optimistic boom days of the 1880’s, here’s a short recent history. They were actively used well into the 1960s as retail spaces, but by the time they were 100 years old, in the mid 1980s, they had already fallen into a neglected state and were hardly used structures. One building, the one story, was being used as an office and three larger buildings were storage and occasional wood shop space, but far from the kind of usage that brings folks and economic life to downtown. When the violent remnants of Hurricane Rita passed over Water Valley in late September 2005, ripping half the roof off of 428 Main Street, no activity was going on in the structure anyway. It did not seem to matter. The one story building at 420 was intermittently a small boutique and then an antique consignment store, both not lasting long. The steel shed in the back on Railroad Ave. was an automotive repair shop surrounded by a sea of dead vehicles. That was the extent of life in that whole complex.
In May of 2009 Peter Buchholz and I gingerly walked through all the buildings, trying to get an accurate assessment on their condition. They were really rough inside, but still had hope, though it was fading fast. I remember walking out of the buildings and then looking back up to see a turkey buzzard perched on the upper parapet on 428. He was looking over Main Street. I took it as an ominous omen. So when on July 1, 2010 the front half joist structure on 428 collapsed and blew plate glass shards out on to Main Street, it looked like to many folks the end was near for that building. Despite much pressure, the City did not condemn the structure, it still was physically stable. About this time the WVMSA started the National Register of Historic Places process to include especially these buildings as a possible way to save these structures. By March 2012 all of downtown, from Markette Street to the Town Creek Bridge, was listed as a National Register Historic District. So when Kagan Coughlin and Alexe van Beuren bought the buildings in the late fall of 2013, there were enough things happening to take such a large risk. Main Street as a whole was looking better, the re-habilitation tax credits were in place, and Kagan needed something to do.
Projects this big just don’t happen with one person. Ask Kagan. Mechanics Bank was a huge believer in the project. Guys like Arnold Carothers gave excellent advice and needed materials. The City of Water Valley crews really upgraded infrastructure. Main Street got the tax credits situation ready and helped in a small way with façade grants. Kagan really used local talent in the masonry, electrical, plumbing, and carpentry trades on this project. But like Steve Thompson with the Trusty Hotel and Bill McGregor with the Hendricks Machine Shop, saving these large structures takes someone to run point and have a passion for the work. So when you come out Thursday, thank Kagan for being that person. And Alexe for putting up with him.
|Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson leads a group of officials including Larry Young with the Mississippi Development Authority, Johnson's Executive Assistant Michelle Dunn, Community Development Director Gia Matheny, Jesse Ingram, Hernando Main Street Chamber Member Services Coordinator and Chamber Executive Director Susan Fernandez on a rehearsal of the guided tour for Mississippi Main Street officials today.|
Mississippi Main Street officials from across the Magnolia State will get a guided walking tour of the historic Hernando Square and other parts of one of the state's fastest growing cities today.
The Mississippi Main Street Association is holding its February board meeting in the City of Hernando for the very first time.
Guests are staying at the newly-opened Hampton Inn in Hernando.
The meeting will include a regular board meeting and lunch as well as a downtown walking tour at 1 p.m. led by Mayor Chip Johnson.
"I am excited to have this distinguished group of leaders from across Mississippi join us in Hernando," Johnson said. "I am hoping that they can take some of our ideas and spread them to other communities across the state while giving us their professional input so that Hernando can continue on the path of preserving and expanding our beautiful downtown area."
The City of Hernando has been a certified Mississippi Main Street community since 1997. Johnson is now in his second year serving on the Board for Mississippi Main Street Board.
"I'm honored to be on the Mississippi Main Street Board," Johnson added. "For them to hold their board meeting in Hernando will serve two purposes. We'll get to show off Hernando and all the great things that we have to offer. I want to walk those people around Hernando and get their advice. You can't beat advice, especially free advice. You are able to get a fresh look at your town through other's eyes. To have them put their eyes on Hernando will be great."
The Hernando Main Street Chamber of Commerce has been accredited as a National Main Street Program for meeting the commercial district revitalization performance standards set by the National Main Street Center.
Susan Fernandez, Executive Director of the Hernando Main Street Chamber of Commerce, said she, too, is thrilled that state leaders will be touring the historic DeSoto County seat.
"We're delighted to have them here," Fernandez said. "This is the first time that we've been able to showcase our beautiful city and our wonderful businesses."
Gia Matheny, Community Development Director for the City of Hernando, said the publicity for Hernando will be tremendous.
"We're proud to show off Hernando and our town square," Matheny said. "It has such a rich history as well as a thriving commercial corridor. We're excited to have them and show off our wonderful city."
Since its inception, the Hernando Main Street program has opened 117 net service and retail businesses, created 299 net jobs, 25 business expansions, 58 façade improvements, 24 upper floor residences, and has more than $50 million in public and private investment.
MMSA Board President Mark Loughman of Mississippi Power will preside over the board meeting.
On Wednesday evening, several MMSA staff and board members will have dinner at the Windy City Grille in downtown Hernando.
"We like to move our meetings around the state so our board members can see and experience what our local Main Street communities have to offer," said Bob Wilson, MMSA Executive Director.
"With Mayor Johnson coming on our state board in 2014, he wanted to invite all of our board members to visit Hernando and see the great places and things going on."
Where are you from and where do you live now? I grew up in Soso, but I currently live in Laurel, Mississippi.
How long have you been a Main Street manager? 4 years
How did you get involved with the Main Street movement? From being involved with my city and from my time working at the MS Arts Commission.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a Main Street manager? Seeing progress and good things happening in the appearance and perception of our city.
What is the most difficult aspect? Changing perceptions.
In your experience, what has been the most effective means of building support for your program? Creating a master plan, executing those plans, keeping everyone involved and informed and hosting events that get better each time they are produced.
What project is consuming most of your time right now? The annual chili cook off and a pocket park project.
Main Street Managers always have such great stories – name the funniest or craziest experience you’ve had on the job. Being from this community and having taught here as well as having a large family base, it’s been hilarious to be introduced to community members by board members who didn’t know me and being able to laugh and say, oh hello, didn’t I teach you in high school? Or yes, we’re cousins….. so the standing joke is “don’t talk about anyone, she either taught you or she’s kin”!
Do you have any favorite activities or hobbies? Reading, gardening, all things musical theatre
Who is your favorite author or what is your favorite book? Currently Brene Brown, Daring Greatly.
What is your favorite movie? The Way We Were
What is your favorite sports team? The 1972 USM Golden Eagles!
Which actor/actress would you choose to play you in a movie? Amy Adams
Name something you can’t live without. Coffee
If you had an alternative career, what would it be? At this point in my life, Personal coach
What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done recently? Sorry, I'm not very adventurous but I did go to New Orleans for my birthday this month!
If you won $20 million in the lottery, what would you do with it? Open a community school for the arts with a music education emphasis.
If you could time travel, where/what era would you visit? I would love to have lived in the late 40’s.
Fun facts? Well, I was a music teacher for 25 years…we’ll leave it at that!