Main Street Experts Help Revitalize South Mississippi Downtowns

Main Street experts from South Carolina spent Tuesday visiting the heart of Ocean Springs. The team is trying to help city leaders, turn the downtown area into a hub for locals, tourists, and investors.

"And really asking them very honestly and humbly: What do you need? What's missing in all that you've done?" Randy Wilson said. "And based on their input and our observations and tours, kind of coming up with what are the missing pieces in their plans."

Randy Wilson is the Main Street Architect for South Carolina. He says the needs for downtown vary from city to city.

"The needs can range from everything to conducting market research and understanding now in a post-Katrina environment, where are your dollars coming from and where are your dollars leaking to? And trying to figure out great retail strategies for recruitment," Wilson said.

Ocean Springs Main Street members say even though their downtown is vibrant and growing, there's always a challenge.

"We want to make sure that the businesses here are sustained, and those that are open stay open." said Margaret Miller, Director of Ocean Springs Main Street. "We're looking into facade grants, incentives for business at a time when insurance and costs are high, and incentives to bring people in with a great marketing plan."

Tripp Muldrow will help the city craft a marketing plan. He runs a planning firm in South Carolina that specializes in Main Street development.

"We look at what we call 'community branding,' and the best way to say that is: What is the message our community is sending to our customers?" said Tripp Muldrow. "Our customers can be people who are shopping here, and dining here."

Once the team comes up with a plan to improve downtown, the next step is finding the funds to turn those ideas into reality. The team will also tour downtowns in Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Picayune and Pascagoula this week. The visit is funded by a Community Development Block Grant, to help cities bounce back from Katrina.