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|Monroe considers adopting 'Main Street Program'|
The Monroe Downtown Economic Development District may apply to become a participant in the Louisiana Main Street Program.
On Tuesday, Monroe city officials as well as DEDD representatives heard a presentation from Ray Scriber, state director of the Louisiana Main Street Program.
DEDD has been involved in various projects to improve downtown Monroe to help spur more economic development in that area of the city.
DEDD recently began a campaign, called the Monroe Streetscape project, to improve the downtown area.
As part of the project, DEDD officials asked numerous downtown businesses to support its efforts by making an investment in improving the look of the downtown area.
DEDD hopes to not only to improve the image of downtown but to add new businesses and buildings in the vacant areas that exist today. A shopping center, dock, marina and landscaped open spaces next to the river for public use have all been proposed by DEDD.
Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo commended the work of DEDD, saying, "You all are doing an outstanding job. I know you feel like you're taking baby steps, and I know there's a tendency to feel like you need to be doing more and doing it faster."
"When I started out as mayor, I wanted to do everything yesterday," Mayo said. "But we planted the seeds, and laid the foundation, and now we're starting to see the wheels turning. The progress you see throughout the city is unbelievable."
DEDD executive director Cynthia Crosby said DEDD's efforts also include applying for a quiet zone for the downtown area. It also is working with local artists to host downtown art events.
Scriber said many downtown areas throughout the United States "have become unfriendly places that look ugly, run-down, unappealing, and not anywhere you'd want to be."
In 1977, the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized the trend and started a program, which eventually became the Main Street Program.
Three communities were chosen, ranging in different size, and the group provided an analysis of each downtown's assets and needs. That information was used to develop strategies for design improvement and economic revitalization, Scriber said.
He said because of those efforts, the three downtown communities now have more life and business flowing within their boundaries.
According to Scriber, since the Louisiana Main Street Program took off in 1984, approximately 1,740 new businesses started in communities participating in the program. That has resulted in 7,424 new jobs. Also, since 1984, $306 million in private money has been invested in those downtown communities, Scriber said. Total investment in those communities by both private and public sectors has been $463 million.
"For every dollar in grant money we give to one of our Main Street communities, an average of $138 in private investment is added to that," Scriber said. "We think we're doing a good job with our tax dollars. We want to invest the state's tax dollars well, and by investing in our downtowns and other revitalization, obviously we get good results. People take that money and invest $138 of their own money for every dollar we give."
"There's some good incentives there," Scriber added.
He said the downtown area is what makes Monroe unique.
"It's very important to save the buildings in downtown Monroe so that history is preserved, the character of downtown is preserved and the uniqueness of your downtown remains," Scriber continued. "People come to our downtowns to see the unique aspects; they don't come to see the shopping centers. Tourists don't come to Pecanland Mall; they come to see what else is going on in the town. A downtown that's vibrant retains jobs, creates jobs, and that means a stronger tax base."
Scriber encouraged local officials to pursue the Main Street status, adding that is has proven to help other downtown communities improve their images and spur economic development.
He said the process can be slow, and development and improvements might take some time, but he believes Monroe officials will get the end result they hope for through this program.