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|Officials await Main Street designations|
West Monroe officials could learn if the city's historic downtown area will be accepted into the state's Main Street program as early as this week.
Beth Betz, who heads Keep West Monroe Beautiful; West Monroe Community Center's Cynthia Holland; Mary Ann Newton WM/WO Chamber of Commerce; Denise Calhoun, community center director; Rebecca Hall, local developer; and several Antique Alley merchants made West Monroe's presentation to Main Street officials at a Sept. 25 meeting in Baton Rouge.
Betz and Holland were in charge of developing the presentation for the city of West Monroe.
Ten Louisiana cities, including West Monroe and Monroe, made presentations in hopes of being picked for the state's Main Street program. The number of communities accepted each year for Main Street program depends on how much funding is available, Holland said.
Main Street program officials were provided with a historical summary of the Cotton Port District. Officials also were presented a plan on how local leaders would like to develop the Cotton Port District.
"We basically had slide shows and a power-point presentation and discussed where the Cotton Port District originated, what happened as a result of being Cotton Port, and the transition from Cotton Port into West Monroe," Holland said.
Local historian Ron Downing provided numerous old photographs of the Cotton Port District. Holland used those to show how the area has evolved through the years.
"We talked about how Antique Alley and its merchant association have done a tremendous job in making sure that brochures are distributed in every visitor's center in the state," Holland said. "They get the word out about Antique Alley, and it draws in a lot of people into northeast Louisiana."
Several local officials have said that being a participant in the Main Street program would have positive, long-range effects on the downtown area, and the city as a whole.
Holland agrees the Main Street designation could help spur more economic development in West Monroe.
"It's all about economic development and getting this area back to that sense of place and taking pride in this area," Holland explained. "Basically, it will boost the merchants and property owners' collaboration with each other. You'll see more festivals down here. You'll see more building modifications and remodeling down here.
"This is where we started, it's where it all began, and we should put this area back as the heart of West Monroe. We want to preserve this heritage for future generations, and let them understand the meaning and the significance of where the city started."
With the Louisiana Main Street status, the city would be eligible to apply for grants and funding for various projects such as beautification efforts.
"We could see more buildings being placed on the national historic register," Holland said.
Currently, the only building in the Cotton Port District on the national historic register is the original First United Methodist Church on North 2nd Street.
"It's nice with both Monroe and West Monroe applying for this, and with the trolley set up now (in Monroe), it would just be a wonderful collaboration here in northeast Louisiana," Holland said.
The Monroe Downtown Economic Development District is leading Monroe's efforts in obtaining Main Street status.