Organizers working hard to get Sulphur Springs recertified as Main Street City; item on council agenda

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

July 1, 2007 - Item number 13 on Tuesday night’s Sulphur Springs City Council meeting agenda has the attention of a lot of people — especially those interested in making the city’s downtown area come back to life.

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The restoration of a historic railroad depot in Mineola is one example of how a Main Street program can help a city upgrade its downtown area. An effort has begun in Sulphur Springs to have the city recertified as a Texas Main Street City.

Resolution No. 940, slated for discussion and action by the council, would authorize the city to participate in the Texas Main Street program and designate City Manager Marc Maxwell to coordinate program activities.

The Texas Main Street program offers cities support, resources, training and some grant money, but the marketing factor would be the most important asset for Sulphur Springs, said Rita Edwards, president of the Downtown Business Alliance in Sulphur Springs.

�To advertise that we are a Main Street City is one of the very best draws for new business, tourism and local community involvement,� she said. �People actually look for Main Street cities to visit. It�s a win-win situation for the entire community, not just downtown.�

Out of the 1,203 cities, towns and villages in Texas, only 87 were able to participate in the Main Street program in 2006-2007. The Texas Historical Commission isn’t looking for size — cities ranged from as small as Goliad (pop. 2,042) to urban centers like San Antonio. Location doesn’t matter, either — towns in West Texas are as likely to appear on the list as cities in East Texas. (Nearby locations that are Main Street cities include Mount Vernon, Winnsboro, Pittsburg, Greenville, Paris and Mineola.)

What Main Street program directors are looking for are cities with “historic commercial buildings in their downtowns and neighborhood business districts,” according to information on the Texas Historical Commission’s website (www.thc.state.tx.us)

�According to Rita Edwards, Sulphur Springs was a Texas Main Street City some 15 to 20 years ago, and the program was considered a success � at least until the Main Street director quit and moved off.

�There was no one to keep it going,� Edwards said. �The merchants at that time did not express an interest in keeping the Main Street status and let it expire.�

When the Downtown Business Alliance, a group of merchants in the central business district, formed a couple of years ago, one of the first topics addressed was the possibility of becoming a Main Street city once again.

�We finally decided, after talking with and visiting other Main Street cities, that it�s very obvious it works,� Edwards said. �So we decided to approach the city about our recertification. We met with some negative responses at first, but then, after they realized � or maybe we convinced them � that we are very dedicated and determined to succeed, they came around to our way of thinking.�

Edwards and others met one year ago with Mercy Rushing, director of Mineola’s Main Street project. Rushing presented them with information from the Texas Main Street Project newsletter that outlined the negative economic impact of empty buildings in a city’s downtown district. The losses include an estimated $125,000 in sales at a location; $15,000 in salaries; $6,000 in rents; $5,600 in business profits; $875 in property taxes; more than $50,000 in property values; and losses in advertising and utilities sales and interest on business loans in a single year.

Those kinds of numbers aren’t lost on the supporters of getting Sulphur Springs back into the program.

�If we can bring in more businesses and tourists, then we increase the property tax base, the sales tax base, provide employment and increase the hotel/motel sales tax income,� Edwards said. �We have a lot going for Sulphur Springs, but this would be a really big shot in the arm.�

But first, organizers need some support, such as the City Council resolution being considered Tuesday. 

Edwards and others also met with Debra Farst, director of Texas Main Street, on June 12. Farst told them their efforts would get a big boost if they could demonstrate support from the whole community, not just business owners.

�So we have started a letter writing campaign hoping to gather hundreds of letters to not only send with our application but to show to the City Council,� Edwards said. �They have to step up and agree to fund the salary for the Main Street director for three years, so they � and understandably so � must be sure that the community and business owners are committed to this.�

Achieving Main Street status is no simple feat. Only five cities are accepted per year, with only two of those being recertification cities. And 10 cities have notified the historical commission they intend to seek Main Street designation this year. (The application deadline is July 31.)

�So the odds are tremendous, but we still feel that we must at least give it the old college try,� Edwards said. �The benefits far outweigh the possibilities of failure.�

And if they do fail? Not to worry.

�We can always try again next year.�

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