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Main Street SC names newest members

Aiken and Moncks Corner are the newest members of Main Street South Carolina, a program that offers technical support and training to help bring new life to downtowns around the state. The first three years of membership is labeled Boot Camp to show the intensity of hard work expected from these new members and the Municipal Association staff working with them.

Downtown Aiken, SC
Downtown Aiken

Main Street South Carolina uses the National Main Street Center’s four-point approach, a strategy focused on building a strong organization for downtown, promoting the central business district, enhancing downtown buildings through good design and upkeep, and diversifying the downtown’s economic base. While each city determines its own goals, training and support from Main Street SC includes architectural services, focus-group facilitation, training and technical assistance.

John Klimm had experience working with the Main Street program in two other states before becoming Aiken’s city manager in 2015. He said he knew the city could benefit from the technical assistance and approach of Main Street South Carolina. While Aiken does not need a major overhaul, Klimm explained, city leaders wanted to look at areas such as the lack of downtown housing, as they try to attract millennials and young retirees.

"There’s a desire to return to downtown to live, work and play, but we are not positioned well in that regard," Klimm said. "Aiken is a hidden jewel. There is so much to offer seasonal visitors and weekend visitors that we can promote. Unfortunately, there are downtowns across the country that really face challenges. That’s not Aiken. Aiken has a wonderful downtown that could be even better. What’s missing is the technical expertise that the Main Street Program can provide."

Beppie LeGrand, manager of the Main Street South Carolina agreed, "This is a great opportunity for Aiken to build on the many wonderful resources that currently exist."

That feeling was echoed by David Jameson, president and CEO of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce. "Aiken has a strong downtown but knows that it cannot become complacent. The Main Street SC program will help us sharpen our focus. We want to build a downtown that is the envy of the Southeast."

Jameson said the downtown provides an excellent mix of businesses for baby boomers and older people, but he would like to see an additional focus on gifts, dining, services and affordable housing to appeal to the growing population of young professionals. He predicts existing businesses will enthusiastically support the downtown revitalization program if they are on the ground floor in helping develop the plan.

"We all love Aiken and will work to build the best product available," Jameson said. "People in Aiken believe that if you’re lucky enough to live in Aiken—you’re lucky enough. The Main Street SC program will be another initiative to help us prove our point."

In Moncks Corner, town leaders hope to use tools from the Main Street SC program to prepare and take advantage of the anticipated growth coming to Berkeley County.

Pinwheel Garden, Moncks Corner, SC 
Pinwheel Garden, Moncks Corner

"We are a rapidly growing community," Mayor Michael Lockliear said. "It is vitally important that we create an environment in the downtown area that is conducive for a focal point of the town. Downtowns are the cornerstones of any community, and it is imperative that we make ours a gathering place."

Moncks Corner was part of the state Main Street Program once before, and growth is the reason leaders applied again.

"As a long-time resident, Main Street business and property owner, and elected official for our town, I have slowly watched our Main Street become a liability and not the asset that it could and should be to our town," Lockliear wrote in the town’s application to join the Main Street SC program.

"Our town is on the cusp of tremendous opportunities for growth, with the recent announcement of Volvo locating in Berkeley County," said Lockliear. "Great times and great things are upon us, yet I personally feel that our downtown area, specifically the Main Street Business and Historic District, does not have the curb appeal that will enable us to attract new businesses and community activities to this area."

"Moncks Corner is a beautiful South Carolina small town with many assets," said LeGrand. "Geographically the town is uniquely positioned in the Lowcountry, and the timing is right to grow and revitalize the local economy."

A town survey of downtown stakeholders found that vacant and dilapidated buildings, neglect of building maintenance, and a lack of building aesthetics were the leading threats to the long-term economic health of the central business district.

"We could not have been selected at a better time than this to be a participant in the program," Lockliear said. "We are looking forward to a long-term relationship with the Municipal Association in carrying out this program to shape and develop downtown Moncks Corner for generations to come."

Being chosen as a Main Street member is a competitive process with a limited number of spots available each year. The Municipal Association anticipates having four slots available for 2017. Interested cities must submit an application to be considered.