Susan Thayer-Fye, Executive Director at Main Street of Hope, recently discussed what the Main Street project is all about, its mission and goals.
When was the Main Street project introduced in Hope?
Main Street of Hope started about two years ago, initiated through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) in collaboration with the actual Main Street organization, which has been around for quite a while.
What is OCRA?
They offer financing, grants, and loans for smaller, rural communities like Hope. The purpose they recognize most is small towns, like Hope, have a lower industrial or commercial tax base and experience difficulty attracting businesses to support their tax base.
Why was Main Street started?
To promote economic development in small towns that need assistance to spiff up their downtown areas and attract businesses.
What is the project's mission?
Since I came on board, we have maintained the same mission statement: "Main Street of HOPE is a community organization dedicated to the revitalization of the Hope Town Square through historic preservation and beautification, promoting local businesses while attracting new businesses, creating new housing opportunities, and becoming a destination for tourism."
How did you get involved?
That is a good story. My sister, Barb Johnson, when she says do something I usually say, "Yes." She asked me last fall if I would put my name in to join the board of the Yellow Trail Museum, which was looking to fill a couple of empty spots. My name was originally going to be put in for a board position, but someone heard I'd put my name in and I was contacted by Dr. Sweet, the president of Main Street of Hope, who asked me to come in and talk about getting on with the organization. I went in and talked to him, went home and thought about it. I later told him I would accept the position.
How would you describe the importance of Main Street to the Hope community?
I think basically the Main Street projects in any town are what the community makes of them. I am paid as a part-time person to organize and put people together. But the strength of the movement is community and volunteer based. We get together a group of volunteers who are committed to the mission.
What is the project's territory?
It is essentially the square and a one half block to a block off the square in all four directions. That is the area where we could have impact and influence and ask for funding to improve buildings, flow of the square, the park or anything the group determines is the direction they would like to go.
What types of issues do you discuss?
We've talked about everything from what kinds of events draw people into the square and help the businesses, parking, safety on State Road 9. Anything is fair game. The appearance of downtown; we have a ton of historic buildings downtown - do they look the way you want them to look? How could we tie them together?
What challenges have you come up against since being director?
Agreement on goals. Some people love the square the way it is and don't want it to change. Others say, "Wouldn't it be great to have restrooms in the shelter house." If you try to think through in your head, the square is used in so many different ways and people have a different impression of what their attraction is. I think it is a matter of bringing people together and getting some common ground and consensus on what the best direction is for the downtown.
How do you see the introduction of this project influencing Hope's history and where the town goes forward?
We have had conversations, but the one consistent thing is Hope is a historic town. We don't want to be like someone else. We are Hope. Everything is steeped in history and everyone wants to preserve that. It has made Hope what it is. We want to honor the town's history. But you can still do that while encouraging others to do business in town. It is a promotion of our agricultural town - so much of the culture is history and agriculture.