MT. VERNON — In the past 11 years, the Downtown Mt. Vernon Development Corporation has seen a new vitality in the downtown district, executive director Cyndy Mitchell said Monday.
“I am here tonight to commend the DMDC officers and active board members and volunteers who have given their time, talent and commitment to making downtown what it is today and will become in the future,” Mitchell said. “They believed in our mission and were tenacious about obtaining our goals. It has been a slow progress, but we always moved forward. These are all working men and women who have given their free time to make a difference in the quality of our community.”
Mitchell, who started working with DMDC in 2002, said she was impressed with the far-sighed vision and progressive views of the board.
“Their first action was to develop a strategic plan from which they created a mission statement,” Mitchell said. “Then they determined two major goals: To encourage the renovation and preservation of downtown buildings and to promote economic development and growth. They realized to attract the kind of businesses they wanted downtown, the buildings needed to be improved upon.”
Mitchell spoke of the Renovation and Assistance Program for renovation and facade improvements.
“Between 2002 and 2007, 13 buildings were totally renovated,” Mitchell reported. “Some examples were The Rex, Eight Ball Billiards Hall, 9th Street Apartments and the Jefferson State Bank Building. The property owners who renovated these buildings received only $5,000 for spending $25,000 or more on their projects. Some spent $400,000 to $700,000 on renovations. During that time, three new buildings were constructed. They all believed in our mission to revitalize downtown. In that same time period, there were also 23 facade improvements, which enhanced and preserved buildings through tuck-pointing, painting and roof repair to name a few.”
Mitchell said although some businesses have remained, some have moved on, there is still a commitment to downtown.
“When I began working for DMDC, the community’s perception of downtown was that there was nothing to do and it was dying,” Mitchell said. “At the same time, there were a group of people who came3 downtown once or twice a week and thought it was silly to even invest money in the district, that it would never improve. However, five years later, that same group was impressed by all that had been accomplished and supported what DMDC was doing. We changed people’s perceptions of downtown. They started looking at it more positively.”
Programs and events which have been implemented are the annual Cruise In, Downtown After 5, the Downtown Lowdown and First Fridays. Most recently, the Upstart Art Mart has been opened, and the second phase of the Streetscape program is underway.
“To fast forward, today we have three new local restaurants opening in downtown this year, DMDC is sponsoring an economic incubator, Upstart Art Mart as a venue for area artists to show and sell their works — Creativity Redefined. A new gift shop, 4 Ever Gifts is opening two doors down from the Art Mart. In fact, they chose that location because they wanted to be located near the mart. There is a florist next door and an art gallery located on the corner will be open this summer. This is in addition to other businesses that have opened downtown in recent years. I am receiving calls of local businesses that are looking for downtown spaces and am optimistic about future businesses.”
Mitchell said the DMDC is starting on a new path as a private/public entity and will be expanding its vision to encompass the entire downtown.
“We will expand our boundaries and continue our mission to promote economic growth, encourage restoration and market our new enlarged downtown district,” Mitchell said. “A viable and active downtown reflects the quality of life in the community and pride in their town.”