PITTSBORO — The Pittsboro Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Monday night not to renew its Memorandum of Understanding with the nonprofit Main Street Pittsboro organization for the next fiscal year, opting instead to form a Downtown Advisory Board to manage the program.
Commissioners Kyle Shipp, Jay Farrell and John Bonitz voted for the motion; commissioners Pamela Baldwin and Michael Fiocco opposed.
“If I had a vote, I would have opposed (it) also,” Mayor Jim Nass said after the vote.
Shipp presented the motion. The move presents a way to “double down” on the town’s support for the Main Street initiative, he told the board.
“We need to form a Downtown Advisory Committee, which is appointed by the board of commissioners and directly supported by town staff,” Shipp said. “We need to continue to budget the necessary funds to support the Main Street district and its businesses and residents.”
Founded in 2017, Main Street Pittsboro seeks to support local businesses, improve the Main Street district’s built environment and bring people downtown. It’s a part of the N.C. Dept. of Commerce’s Main Street Program, meant to help historic downtown districts rebound from business losses and generate new growth.
Main Street Pittsboro operated under an MOU with the town to carry out the Main Street Program. Since its inception, the group has opened and operated a new Pittsboro Welcome Center, completed rain gardens near Pittsboro Toys and installed several murals throughout the district.
According to Shipp, about $70,000 of Main Street Pittsboro’s budget last year went toward the upfit, operation and staffing of the Welcome Center. Another $8,900 went toward nonprofit administration, and around $43,000 funded other Main Street district projects. By taking over the Main Street program’s mission, he said the town can allocate more funds to the Main Street district.
“With this transition, we have the opportunity to have more taxpayer funds available for the Main Street district without having to allocate additional funds,” Shipp said. “We will work closely with Main Street Pittsboro over the next eight months to fully transition the Main Street program back into town and operate it going forward.”
The town is also in a “significantly different place” in 2021 than it had been in 2018 to operate the program, Shipp told the board, thanks in part internal administrative changes.
“The staff as a whole is much more energized and capable than even a year ago,” he said. “For example, we budgeted this year to hire a public information officer, a grant writer and administrator, a planner and a planning project manager in addition to the other recently added positions. ... This gives the town much more capability to support the Main Street district than we’ve ever had before.”
Fiocco, who’s also on the Main Street Pittsboro board, wasn’t quite so sure. The town used to run the Main Street program, he said, and was unable to complete all the goals they had set previously.
“The program from 2011 to 2017 was town-run, and I did think it accomplished many good things,” he 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.”
However, Town Manager Chris Kennedy said the town has budgeted for new positions that would allow for a transition away from the Main Street nonprofit established. One of these new positions includes second town planner. Kennedy said this planner would essentially serve as a downtown planner to help transition away from Main Street.
“I think if we didn’t have positions authorized, I would say, there would be some concern,” Kennedy said, “but knowing that we have two new positions authorized, one of which was going to have a primary downtown focus, either way, I feel a lot more comfortable than I would have been in say, March of last year, with this conversation because we do have two positions authorized in the planning department to support this.”
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