By Jacob Hatfield, Mount Pleasant Main Street Manager
Do you remember turning 20—how you thought you had learned so much and accomplished so much? And then you later realize at 30 how much more you had accomplished and how much more you had learned. You made a few bad decisions along the way, but if you had not tried, you would not have learned from them and grown. Life doesn’t stop at that 20-year-old milestone—you keep on trucking, remember what you learned, change lanes occasionally, and adapt to the ever-changing highway of life.
Mount Pleasant Main Street celebrates 20 proud years in 2013, all the while continuing to evaluate and plan for future progress. What will downtown be like in years 30, 40, 50, and so on? With the Main Street Four Point Approach, any successes Mount Pleasant Main Street has achieved have been made by people working as a team, with a passion for learning more about our town’s history and preservation. Looking back on these accomplishments instills a sense of pride in being a Texas Main Street City.
The first success as a Main Street city involved the design phase, a large project organized by the original manager Nita May. Nita and Main Street volunteers worked with design teams to rid the square of hideous sidewalks in disrepair, removed the overhead power lines, added new appropriate light fixtures and pedestrian poles, and made the area handicapped accessible. “I’m proud of the underground utilities and the brick sidewalks,” says Patti Alexander, president and founding Main Street member. “Our Main Street Program brings together retail and non-retail businesses as well as concerned citizens in a concentrated effort to promote and preserve the area.”
In 1992, one year prior to becoming a Main Street city, the county removed the aluminum slip cover from the historic courthouse, restoring the building to its 1940 appearance. The momentum had begun and Main Street was formed. The 1940 restoration did not include a bell tower, so the 1897 bell was displayed in a glass case for everyone to see, but not hear. Passionate Main Street volunteers kept hearing a ringing in their ears, and they knew it would not stop until the bell was out of the glass case and ringing in everyone’s ears on the southwest corner of the square. The project was truly a community-wide effort. Long-time board member Linda Norris says the bell tower project gives “a tremendous sense of pride for our town to have such a beautiful structure to honor the citizens of our community. It was a great honor to be part of this project.” The 1897 bell tolls every 15 minutes and on the hour from its new freestanding structure.
Promoting and presenting that history to help the community understand the past’s role in local quality of life is important, too. It’s something Main Street does all year long, especially during the holidays. What is downtown at Christmas time without Christmas décor and lights? Most people express such fond memories of downtown and Christmas lights. Each October, Main Street partners with the Downtown Merchants Association and holds “Lunch for Lights” in Caldwell Park downtown. People from all parts of the community gather in the park for a cooked onsite chili lunch and enjoy the food, fall colors, weather and music. This event serves as a fundraiser to purchase bulbs for downtown buildings and helps provide funds for maintenance of the lighting. It has been successful in doing so for the last four years.
Bringing people downtown to make memories, Mount Pleasant will host Christmas on the Square for the fifth year in December. Working with Rotary of Mount Pleasant, the time of the annual daytime parade was moved back to its original time in the evening and parade floats have never been the same. Working with the lighted theme, the Christmas in the Square festival begins in the evening just before the parade and extends until after the parade. The parade travels through downtown and wraps around the square. An annual chili cook-off, live entertainment, outdoor movie, arts and crafts, nighttime shopping and free Dr Pepper all night are some of the highlights.
Who doesn’t love a cold Dr Pepper? Making partnerships and relationships has been the key to Mount Pleasant Main Street’s successes. A recent very successful partnership has been with the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. Mount Pleasant has had a long history with Dr Pepper since it was once bottled downtown. Over the past 20 years, Dr Pepper has twice restored its mural on the side of our oldest building on the Square. The latest restoration two years ago, with its added image, makes the mural one of the largest, if not the largest in the U.S. With this partnership and the vintage Dr Pepper theme on our historic building, Mount Pleasant also proudly displays the only downtown one-of-a-kind vintage Dr Pepper banners in the world during the holiday season.
The latest addition to the Main Street district is the new Historical Museum at Mount Pleasant Library. For many years, the Mount Pleasant Public Library was housed in the historic post office building where it had a small 10x20-foot room in the basement that contained local artifacts. These were neatly displayed, but the space was cramped, and access was not easy. As the city grew, the demand for more space was obvious, so the plan to build a new library began. The library made the move to its new location in March 2012. The library’s new home takes up one entire block in the Main Street district. The building also houses the interactive museum, which is filled with historical treasures. A walk through the museum is a walk through Mount Pleasant’s history.
Each spring hundreds of school children tour downtown Mount Pleasant and the Historical Museum (now in its new location). Groups begin the tour with a recap of local history as they go through the museum. Then they take a walking tour of the city. Downtown, students hear the history of the older buildings and actually get to go inside many of them. These tours are an important project in the Main Street district, serving to inform and preserve local history for generations to come.
Mount Pleasant Main Street Economic Restructuring continues to offer a low-interest loan program with five local banks and has added a façade grant program. Recently, through an ordinance change, the city now allows for loft living in downtown. Tax abatements and downtown improvement projects are on the horizon. Recruiting missing businesses downtown and supporting existing businesses have been a main focus in the recent years. Locals hope to taste steak downtown in the near future and see upper floor lights on at night downtown.
As with any downtown, there will always be challenges to be faced. Perception and preparation are the key words. How Main Street plans as a team, how the program learns and educates other people, and how we never lose our passion and drive for downtown is what will make downtown Mount Pleasant continue to progress. As the 1897 bell chimes and reminds us of time, we celebrate our 20th year as a Texas Main Street city. Moving forward, we will keep on trucking, adapting, and making the highway of life continue to come through downtown, the heart of Mount Pleasant.
This post is a modified version of the feature article in Main Street Matters, a monthly newsletter published by our Texas Main Street Program. It is part of a series of case studies that highlight successful initiatives and events of Texas Main Street cities.
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