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Downtown glows after decade of improvement

Lincolnton’s downtown supporters celebrate a 10-year anniversary tonight with a Main Street Gala at the Cultural Center. It’s an important celebration because it represents the success of a volunteer organization, the Downtown Development Association, which has been an effective vehicle of positive change for downtown. City officials have backed the program every step of the way. The office of Business and Community Development, now headed by Brad Guth, administers the DDA’s Downtown Program.
The numbers, as outlined in Guth’s column which appeared in Wednesday’s paper, show the success of the program over the past 10 years.
Investment has totaled $12.3 million resulting in 134 new jobs. Some 64 businesses have located in the downtown area with 27 facades rehabbed and 17 buildings rehabbed. A lot of the rehabilitation projects were aided with financial assistance from the downtown program.
An area of downtown has been designated as historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places. A grant program assists property owners who want to establish living quarters in second-story space over a business. Charlotte Rhyne Farmer is the first to undertake a residential project with her loft apartment above the Court Street Grille.
Beyond these programs the Business and Community Development Office has brought programs that promote a livelier downtown with the Live After Five concerts, the Hog Happenin’ and Christmas activities.
There’s more to come. In 2003 the DDA established a vision program for the year 2010. Those goals include a concert shell, visitors center, an arts and entertainment center among other projects.
Any promotional program that requires some taxpayer funding will have critics and nay-sayers who believed economic development should be left to private enterprise. But Lincolnton residents would not be happy to leave downtown to private enterprise. It’s too precious. In fact, if you drive through most of the small towns that lie outside of the metropolitan areas of the two Carolinas you will see what Lincolnton has avoided: vacant, decaying buildings; ugly storefronts; sidewalks with no people.
Downtown still needs more improvements. There is not much going on at night except for some restaurant activity. We could use more public gathering space, more leisure-friendly businesses for the evening crowds, more outdoor events, more nature spots.
That will come. We hope and expect the positive developments of the last 10 years will continue for through 2015 and beyond.

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