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Newton County considers program to boost downtowns

By Staff
REVITALIZATION Kathy Stephens, executive director of the Newton Chamber of Commerce, wants to boost downtowns in Newton and other Newton County communities. Her office is in the historic train depot on Main Street in Newton. PHOTO BY CARISA MCCAIN / THE MERIDIAN STAR
By William F. West / community editor
Nov. 7, 2002
NEWTON Small town buildings housing an old train depot and other shops line historic Main Street and civic leaders want to preserve the old-time feeling here and in nearby communities.
They are concerned a weak economy has left some buildings vacant. So they are planning a meeting next week to discuss a countywide Main Street program to boost downtowns in Newton County.
The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the train depot, 128 S. Main St., and will be hosted by the Newton Chamber. Newton County doesn't have a Chamber of Commerce.
Beverly Meng, executive director of the Mississippi Main Street Association, will speak and answer questions. Bob Wilson, the association's director of program services, also will attend.
The statewide Main Street association, a private nonprofit organization, was established in 1989 and is headquartered in Jackson. It is partnered with the Mississippi Development Authority, which provides grants to assist in Main Street revitalization efforts.
Statewide program
The association oversees more than 40 cities and towns participating in revitalization programs but there has never been a countywide program in Mississippi.
Each program enhances the appearance of its downtown by securing cooperation among groups to promote downtown and finding ways to compete in an era of suburban shopping centers.
Michael Ledlow, owner of McBeath's Drug Store, 113 N. Main St., was unaware of next week's meeting. But he said he likes the Main Street programs he has seen in Mississippi.
Wilmer Whittle, chairman and chief executive officer of Newton County Bank, 114 E. Church St., also was unaware of the meeting.
Program expenses
Stephens said she is aware a Main Street program can be costly, including a salary for an executive director.
That's why she said she believes a program could have a roving director to cover the towns of Newton, Decatur and Union and the communities of Hickory and Chunky.
Meng said roving directors are common in other Main Street programs today, an example being in rural Iowa. "It will be a new concept for us and one which I heartily support," she said.
Stephens said downtown Newton is already an attraction for bus tourists.
Those interested in the meeting can call Stephens at 683-2201.