Main Street Program offers opportunities to get involved

Published 11:17 am Friday, March 22, 2013

An enthusiastic group of Bogalusa city leaders, business owners and members of the general public who realize that improvements to the historic downtown area benefit everybody celebrated the grand opening of the Bogalusa Main Street Development Office at 427 Columbia Street Monday.

Louisiana Main Street Director Ray Scriber and Design Coordinator Leon Steele joined Bogalusa Main Street Manager Robin Day in fanning the flames by telling those in attendance how they can help preserve and revitalize the historic downtown Columbia Street district.

Scriber gave an overview of the Main Street Program, which is based on historic preservation and focuses on communities determining and celebrating on their own unique characters.

Of the 34 Main Street communities in Louisiana, 29 are small, like Bogalusa, with populations of 50,000 or less, he said. The other five are in New Orleans.

The local programs are run by one professional paid director, Day in Bogalusa; a board of directors; and four committees that address Design, Organization, Promotions and Economic Restructuring.

“Volunteers are the life’s blood of the Main Street organization,” Scriber said. “It’s a bottom up-driven program. The committees, who we train, present ideas and try to implement them to the benefit of district. It’s not the state or city government saying ‘do this.’”

Steele, whose focus is on façade improvements but also includes interiors and street scaping, added that the benefits are far more than just cosmetic.

“It’s not just a prettification project,” he said. “It’s economic development.”

The idea is to bring buildings that might have declined since their historic glory days, back into commerce. That revitalization not only looks good, it helps the economy while the transformation is in progress and gives it a further boost when the work is done and the restored businesses attract customers to town.

“A number of jobs are generated while the work is being done,” Steele said. “People buy glass, install it, work on the buildings… Then they put them back into commerce, return them to the tax roles. The program generates jobs and opportunities.”

Besides ongoing guidance, it also offers grant opportunities for building restoration, free design services and a chance for historic revitalization tax credits.

Bogalusa was part of the Main Street Program in the past, but participation lapsed. When Mayor Charles Mizell took office, he made contact and said he wanted to get back with the program, Scriber said.

When the state Main Street representatives returned to town, they noticed a “more positive energy,” they both said.

Scriber praised Day’s enthusiasm and vowed to help her get organized and to keep in contact.

“With the help of a lot of volunteers, we know she will do just a great job,” he said. “We think she’s a great person for Main Street.”

Day is eager to move forward with the project.

“I appreciate all the citizens who came to the grand opening, who want to help Build a Better Bogalusa,” she said. “We had a great show of support.”

She hopes that will extend throughout the community to include downtown building owners as well as more members of the general public who could help design the future of the city and, thereby, help ensure overall progress.

Day said she would like to see development of a cultural area, which could stimulate ongoing economic opportunities.

The possibilities are wide open.

“Downtown is the heart of the community, so everybody in Bogalusa should care and have interest,” said Scriber.

“It’s part of the bigger picture,” Steele added. “There should be a collective sense of place.”

It is up to the local people to paint the picture.

Day invites participation.

For additional information on that and on the National Main Street Conference in New Orleans April 14-16, contact her at 750-4054 or 732-4684.