Main Street president speaks out after Pittsboro board’s vote

Posted 10/27/21

PITTSBORO — Maria Parker-Lewis tuned into the regular Pittsboro Board of Commissioners meeting via Zoom last Monday to update the board about her organization, Main Street Pittsboro (MSPBO), and …

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Main Street president speaks out after Pittsboro board’s vote

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Posted

PITTSBORO — Maria Parker-Lewis tuned into the regular Pittsboro Board of Commissioners meeting via Zoom last Monday to update the board about her organization, Main Street Pittsboro (MSPBO), and the work it was doing.

After her update, the board proceeded to address renewing the memorandum of understanding between MSPBO and the town. What Parker-Lewis did not anticipate was a vote ending the official partnership.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to not renew the MOU between the town and the nonprofit organization, with Commissioner Kyle Shipp bringing the motion forward. Shipp said ending the MOU would allow for the town to form its own committee to support the town’s businesses without having to reserve additional funds to the nonprofit.

“We need to form a Downtown Advisory Committee, which is appointed by the board of commissioners and directly supported by town staff,” Shipp said during the meeting. “We need to continue to budget the necessary funds to support the Main Street district and its businesses and residents.”

Two commissioners opposed Shipp’s motion: Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Baldwin and Commissioner Michael Fiocco. Both expressed concerns regarding the town’s ability to properly fulfill the duties performed by MSPBO, stemming from staffing concerns.

“The program from 2011 to 2017 was town-run, and I did think it accomplished many good things,” Fiocco said, “but it did not bring the vitality that I think this group of volunteers has brought. … I question whether or not staff, given all that we got going on in town, is the best vehicle at this time to continue to promote the program.”

Fiocco serves on MSPBO’s board of directors.

Parker-Lewis shared his sentiments, especially since she formed part of the organization when it was a town operation. Prior to being a nonprofit, MSPBO was a part of the parks manager’s job. Parker-Lewis became involved in 2016 before the nonprofit was formed and went to a N.C. Main Street training workshop. There, she saw what MSPBO could become if it had more manpower.

“I realized there was so much more to the program that what we were taking advantage of,” she said.

From there, MSPBO formed as a nonprofit and was funded by the town of Pittsboro and its own fundraising efforts. The memorandum was created as a way to maintain a formal partnership between the town and MSPBO to allow for town funds to be used to help fund its work.

Parker-Lewis said she and her husband, Greg — the couple owns and operates The Sycamore, an upscale restaurant in Pittsboro — had a conversation with Shipp the Friday before the meeting to discuss the town’s future with MSPBO. Prior to this conversation, Parker-Lewis said she had heard rumors about ending the MOU.

“There were some murmurings,” she said, “and we weren’t really sure what was going on.”

Shipp presented the various ideas he and others had in regard to the future of the partnership, according to Parker-Lewis. She said that conversation led her to believe the board was going to renew the MOU and change the funding schedule.

“He discussed two various thoughts,” she said. “One of which was that instead of right now, the agreement is that we get two installments from the town, one at the beginning of the fiscal year, one in the middle of the fiscal year. So, he was thinking: what if we did quarterly installments with our updates?”

Parker-Lewis said even though Shipp had mentioned bringing the organization into the town in their conversation, it appeared the town was going to wait to make a decision.

“I had no idea that it was going to be a discussion on Monday night and a vote was going to be taken on Monday night,” she said. “I had hoped that there might have been more discussion with the organization itself.”

Shipp told the News + Record in an email message there were many reasons the board went the way it did in regard to the MOU with MSPBO. But ultimately he believed it would allow the commissioners to focus on other issues the town faces.

“The amount of time that the board of commissioners has spent discussing Main Street Pittsboro has exceeded other larger issues such as water quality, affordable housing, sewer capacity, etc.,” Shipp said. “I believe this is the best option to move forward for the stakeholders in the Main Street district and the rest of Pittsboro.”

Shipp also addressed the disappointment Parker-Lewis and other volunteers felt after the board’s decision not renew the MOU. He said the town was grateful for all of the work the nonprofit has been able to accomplish, and he hoped the decision wouldn’t stop the nonprofit from continuing its work.

“The decision by the town board does not denigrate the significant efforts of the volunteers at Main Street Pittsboro over the last few years,” Shipp said. “The MOU between the town and Main Street Pittsboro was one way to accomplish the goals of the Main Street program. I believe this change will allow the current volunteers to more directly impact the citizens and businesses in the Main Street district while attracting new volunteers and perspectives.”

The MOU provided an avenue for MSPBO to request funds directly from the town, but with the partnership not being renewed for the 2022 fiscal year, the organization will no longer secure funds from the town.

According to Shipp, Main Street Pittsboro’s budget last year had $70,000 going toward the upkeep and operations of the Welcome Center and $8,900 allocated toward administrative costs; around $43,000 funded other Main Street district projects.

MSPBO now faces finding those operating funds on its own.

Parker-Lewis said while finances would not necessarily be an issue, MSPBO has not been able to decide exactly what lies in its future.

“At this point, we are not dissolving,” she said. “But I hope that we continue to see all of the things that the organization has brought to our town.”

MSPBO meets Oct. 29 to discuss its next steps.

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.

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