By David Howell
JACKSON – The Water Valley Main Street Association (WVMSA) was awarded the Outstanding Community Transformation Award – Small Town during the Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA) 29th Annual Awards Luncheon in downtown Jackson last Thursday.
The recognition, one of the top awards handed out at the annual banquet, stems from more than a decade of work since the local Main Street association was formed. The numbers during this period are strong for a town of 3,500 – 90 new jobs, 27 new businesses and 35 buildings renovated, fueled by $10 million in private investment.
“The award was presented to the Water Valley Main Street Association, but really this award is for the whole town,” WVMSA Manager Mickey Howley said about the recognition, noting that hundreds of people have been involved in the effort since the inception of the local Main Street Association in 2007.
“This has changed the trajectory of the town. The result is a dramatic positive transformation,” Howley added.
During the award presentation, also noted was that the effort has generated national and international press for Water Valley’s comeback.
“The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, Food&Wine, Die Zeit, Preservation Magazine, Oprah, Southern Living and others have all written about the comeback. This preservation-driven transformation is seen in the physical rehabilitation of Main Street’s structures,” Howley added.
But more important than the recognition or even the buildings being fixed is the people who are back in the structures – people who live and work downtown, Howley stressed.
“Downtown is once again the center of economic and social life. The true transformation is in the attitude on Main Street – that this place matters again. That this small-town in Mississippi can once again be a good place to live in and not a place to leave behind. That is the Valley now,” Howley said.
The award was among almost three dozen presented by MMSA Board President Ed Gardner, MMSA Past President Allison Beasley, and MMSA staff to recipients from local Main Street programs throughout the state. The annual awards luncheon honors Main Street directors, board members and volunteers and recognizes the most outstanding downtown development projects from Main Street communities in Mississippi.
“This is the Mississippi Main Street Association’s most important event of the year,” Gardner reported. “It gives us an opportunity to meet with and celebrate the local directors and investors throughout the state that are doing the hard work of making our downtown districts more competitive, successful and sustainable. We are thrilled to honor our economic development and preservation heroes in Mississippi’s downtowns,” Gardner added.
Since 1993, Mississippi Main Street Association has generated more than $5 billion in private and public investment (including more than $1.2 billion in public investment). In 2017, Mississippi Main Street programs generated 325 net new businesses, 95 business expansions to existing businesses, 1,458 net new jobs, 109 façade rehabilitations and 86 downtown residential units. MMSA currently has 48 active Main Street cities throughout the state, six Downtown Network members, and numerous Associate, Allied professional members, and Friends of Main Street.