MATTHEWS – Downtown business owners and residents in Matthews’ core could be one step closer to forming an organization that could help further revitalize downtown if the Matthews Board of Commissioners votes to support and approve the public-private partnership.
The idea to form a downtown organization came out of the board’s annual planning conference last year, when town leaders opted to put the idea, which has been unsuccessfully attempted in the past, in the hands of the town’s Economic Development Advisory Committee, or EDAC. From there, EDAC formed a sub-committee that opted to host a community survey and town hall meeting to give residents, business owners and other stakeholders of Matthews’ downtown a chance to voice their opinions and ideas for improvement in the town’s core. That meeting and survey took place in December, where committee members worked with EDAC to dissect responses and discussions, which mostly showed interest in a downtown organization that could manage and work together on improvements.
The proposal for the organization, which committee members hope to start as a hybrid partnership supported by local business owners, residents and the town, will be discussed at the board of commissioners’ annual planning conference later this week. The board will meet Thursday at town hall to kick off the conference and will move discussions to Ocean Isle Beach on Friday through Sunday, Feb. 28 to March 2. Find more information about that conference, including the agenda, on the town’s website, www.matthewsnc.gov, and in a future issue of Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly.
But the idea for a downtown organization isn’t something new, said former commissioner John Urban, who previously sat on EDAC as a board representative and now serves as the liaison for the newly formed economic advocacy group Alliance of South Charlotte Communities. The idea actually has been attempted several times in the past, but never could get enough momentum, Urban said.
“If the town grabs this by the throat to help the process along, it will help to get it off the ground initially,” Urban said. “As it builds momentum, it can branch off and become a non-profit organization and be self sufficient.”
Urban hopes commissioners will vote on the organization proposal at the March 10 meeting, after specific funding requirements are ironed out, he said. To get the organization off the ground, EDAC is proposing a cost of about $9,500 – $7,000 from this year’s EDAC budget and $2,500 in next year’s budget.
Urban and other leaders already have been in contact with the North Carolina Department of Commerce and plan to use rules, regulations and principles implemented in the N.C. Main Street program that could benefit the town in moving forward. The town initially would not be part of the Main Street program, as that program requires more funding and a town employee.
If approved in March, the committee hopes to hit the ground running, Urban said, crafting a strategic plan with the help of Liz Parham with the N.C. Department of Commerce and discussions of marketing and planning for the downtown, including website design, hopefully before
“Downtowns really need a way to compete with shopping centers,” Urban said. “But if we had a downtown organization, we could group those businesses together that would better serve the downtown core.”
So far, commissioners have shown optimism to the proposal.
“I think this is a great idea, and we want to move forward on this. I think we need more discussion on the funding,” Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor said at the meeting. “I’m very excited to see the existing merchants getting reenergized again. I’m vey optimistic we can be productive in this.”