High Springs wants downtown help

Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 11:55 p.m.
For months, High Springs has worked to revamp its Main Street and the rest of its downtown, calling on city officials, chamber of commerce officials and volunteers to add renewed vigor to its historic streets.
Now, High Springs is calling on The Main Street Program, a national program to help municipalities revitalize their commercial districts, and it is hoping technical support and consulting services from the program would help the city add to the downtown revitalization projects that are already under way.
Mayor Kirk Eppenstein said if High Springs is approved as a "Main Street community," the city could get help with design, fund raising, marketing and other services. Only three municipalities in the state will receive the designation this year, Eppenstein said.
"The downtown is like the heart of your community," Eppenstein said. "If you don't have a healthy heart, you can't have a healthy community."
It's one of several steps the city has taken to revamp its downtown in the face of explosive growth.
The High Springs Chamber of Commerce is administering matching grants to local businesses that belong to the chamber to help them renovate their facades. And the city has implemented interim design regulations for downtown construction, a step city planner Gene Boles said will help maintain the city's character as new subdivisions sprout up around its traditional center.
"If a community of 4,000 people, which is what High Springs is now, is on its way to being a community of 5,000, 6,000, or even 10,000, there are new opportunities for the downtown, but also new challenges," Boles said. "The Main Street program is in the middle of the whole process of making sure that, for a city that is growing, the downtown is benefiting from that growth and not being affected in an adverse way."
If approved to be part of the program, the state could send consultants to the city to help city officials work on design issues, survey existing downtown business owners and organize city meetings about the program, among other services.
The first year would be funded by volunteers, local businesses and local government. The second year, the city would be eligible for a $10,000 state grant.
"The goal is to get the city up and running, and self-sufficient," said Angie Tomlinson, a spokeswoman for the Florida Main Street Program, the state's version of the national program.
Since 1985, the program has helped 80 Florida communities revitalize their downtowns.
Constance Heuss, economic development chairwoman for the High Springs Chamber of Commerce and owner of a business at Palm Avenue and U.S. 27, said she's hopeful the program would give the downtown a boost before that boost is necessary.
"We think we are starting from a very good position of being in a preventive state rather than trying to deal with serious damage," said Heuss, a member of the board that's working to attain the Main Street designation. "Having the Main Street program help us give the downtown a face-lift would help make it look like the showplace it really can be."
Staff writer Amy Reinink contributed to this report.

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