Our view: Main Street director should be more than an event planner

February 1, 2013 11:17:36 AM



Thursday afternoon, Main Street Columbus sent out a press release announcing that its director, Nickie Nicholson, had been removed from her role, effective immediately. 


It was hardly a shocking development to anyone who has any connection to the organization. There have been rumblings about Nicholson almost from the start. 


Although she began her job as Main Street director on Dec. 10, the two major events that happened under her watch -- Wassail Fest and the New Year's Eve Block Party -- were put together by outgoing director Amber Brislin. 


In its press release, Main Street announced Brislin, along with another former Main Street Columbus director, Jan Miller, will take over operations until Nicholson's replacement can be found. 


That Nicholson lasted only seven weeks on the job says all you need to know about Main Street's choice.  


The more salient question for the organization's board of directors is, how does the group identify and hire the right person for the job this time?  


As important as getting the right answer to that question is, it is not the only question the board of directors should carefully contemplate. They should also use this time to take a hard look at not only what the organization is now, but what it should be. 


The press release alluded to some aspects of the organization's mission that seem to have been given low priority, if any priority at all. 


"The mission of Main Street Columbus is to enhance local culture and quality of life through planning, growth, diversification and preservation of the Downtown historic district," the press release stated. 


In some areas, Main Street Columbus has an established record of success. As the press release noted, Main Street Columbus was named a Great American Main Street community in 2010, an honor bestowed to only five communities nationwide each year. Columbus is the only town in Mississippi to ever receive this distinction. 


When it comes to events, it is hard to argue that the organization hasn't performed admirably. Events like Market Street Festival, open houses, the Christmas parade, Wassail Fest, the New Year's Eve party, Sounds of Summer and Noon Tunes undeniably attract people downtown.  


And giving people a reason to come downtown is definitely important. But we sense these events constitute not just the beginning but the end of the organization's efforts. 


We certainly don't see much evidence of how the organization is addressing the growth it mentions in its mission statement.  


It is hard to fathom why growth should not be among the highest priorities. Main Street should play an aggressive role in recruiting and retaining tenants for downtown. It should work with existing tenants to address common problems such as parking. It should help negotiate agreeable leases with prospective tenants. It should be a resource and an advocate for those businesses that currently operate downtown and an effective recruiting entity for businesses that might be induced to open shop in the area. In fact, according to the state Main Street Association's website, business recruitment is listed as one of the roles these organizations should play in their communities. 


On the day Nicholson was relieved of her duties, 21 downtown storefronts lay vacant. Starkville, whose downtown lacks the historic charm and much of the dynamic potential of Columbus, has an occupancy rate of 95 percent. Columbus Main Street's occupancy is at 75 percent and, we fear, headed lower. 


These numbers should be of vital interest as Main Street's board of directors considers its next move. It is especially critical in a town where the city's Chamber of Commerce exists primarily on paper. 


Events are great and serve a useful purpose. 


But if putting on events continues to be the dominant function of Main Street Columbus, we fear we will see a day when a new event is added to the schedule: "The Downtown Tumbleweed-Rolling Contest."