Downtown Hillsville economic development could be likened to gunfighters squared off at high noon; each waiting for the other to commit first. Councilmen, citizens and property owners all appeared to agree on two points at the semi-monthly town council meeting on July 27 which centered on revitalizing downtown.
The more than 37 persons in the meeting room did appear to agree something must be done to attract new businesses to Main Street. A recurring comment was participants must all “be on the same page.”
“It’s exciting. The part I like best is how we are going to work together to get something done,” said Mayor Greg Crowder as he opened the meeting to the packed room.
The economic development development presentation was made by local architects Yancey and Jennifer Powers of WM2A Architects and Lisette Interior Design, the same presentation recently presented to the Hillsville Rotary Club. The presentation was so well received, the Carroll County couple was asked to make the presentation to Hillsville Town Council.
“We’ve gotta try something,” said Yancey Powers, addint that a vital part of the process would be seeing what’s possible over what is there now. “If we don’t do anything it’s not going to get any better. Hillsville has a fantastic quality of life, but if there is nothing to do and no businesses, people will leave.”
While they have many ideas for downtown revitalization, the couple said none of it can happen without a unified vision. They said it must start by getting all of Hillsville’s groups including Friends of Hillsville, the Beautification Committee and the Town of Hillsville all working together.
The duo urged the town to first address its empty storefronts. Possible projects for this would be improving the window spaces so area attractions and businesses could advertise their services and products, creating outside dining spaces, softening pedestrian areas and improved signage. A contest where a year with free rent would be offered to aspiring local entrepreneurs was discussed.
The biggest ticket item in the couple’s plan is an archway with a large Welcome to Hillsville sign with an island they would like to create just before Carter Bank & Trust. The central goal of all the proposed improvements is to get people to linger in downtown. Local hotel businessman C.J. Patel was the first to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting prior to the presentation.
“Why can’t we get some more restaurants,” said Patel, noting Cracker Barrel’s grand opening in Mount Airy. “We’re losing revenue to Mount Airy and Wytheville. They have stuff we don’t have here. It makes no sense for a population of 2,000 people (with Interstate access) to have below 50 percent occupancy in the hotels in the area. We don’t mind helping the town but the town has to help me. We gotta do something. At the end of the day it’s about money. I understand that. We need something (open) 24-7. People are bypassing us.”
Property owner William Strauss told council what he is seeing downtown is more vacancies and urged something to encourage business start-ups and support types of entrepreneurial spirit. He noted reconstruction is costly and urged caution about beautification projects.
“I’m hoping this is all not going to be a flower pot in front of a vacant building,” said Strauss. “Flowers don’t pay the bills. You don’t have the time to wait.”
In other business, Town Manager Retta Jackson announced the retirement of veteran staffer Faye Rakes. Jackson said Rakes has been with the town for more than 30 years and currently serves as account data processing secretary. Jackson said it will be difficult to replace Rakes, but a search was underway. Her retirement will become effective this October.
The Hillsville Police Department activity report covering from July 9 to July 22 listed a total of 70 criminal investigations. The report indicates 14 domestic complaints, 17 criminal arrests, 65 traffic summons, 23 motorists assisted, 343 uncarded business checks and 3 carded checks, 14 warrants served and 14 false or unfounded calls.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.