MARION, NC — The Marion Business Association (MBA) and the City of Marion shared their experience in preserving Historic Downtown Marion with the Alexander County Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) during a visit on Thursday, November 30.
The day began with historical documentation of more than 20 years of pursuing the vision for preserving the downtown business district. During the presentation, the economic impact of Marion’s preservation efforts was shared by MBA Executive Director Freddie Killough, MBA President Walt Bagwell, Champion & Small Business Owner Nancy Spencer, Marion City Manager Bob Boyette, and Marion Planning Director Heather Cotton.
The Main Street Historic District in Marion is a 21-acre National Register district listed in 1991. Killough attributed the city’s successes to the multiple programs funded through a combination of contributions from the city, the Chamber, tourism authority, EDC, and Small Business Center.
“A community is positioned for success when every organization is pushing in the same direction to accomplish the same vision,” said Freddie Killough.
Property owners are offered grant incentives for projects ranging from façade rehabilitations to window restoration. A program called “Moving Up in Marion” assisted property owners with planning advice from a preservation architect for the development of upper-floor residential units. City planning department staff and building inspectors meet with potential tenants about available spaces to determine feasibility of the business in a particular location prior to a lease being signed.
“Our programs support incremental changes over time,” said Heather Cotton.
One of the most notable programs offered in Marion is the Growing Entrepreneurs Marion (GEM) program. GEM is a four-week course that guides entrepreneurs of all ages in the basics of opening and operating a small business. Pertinent topics are discussed with guest speakers to explore specific skills. Speakers include an attorney, a CPA, a small business owner, and more. Graduates of the GEM program are eligible to receive $5,000 for operating purposes if the business fits within the targeted businesses as defined in Marion’s vision.
The tour of downtown Marion continued with a visit to the Miller Business Complex at 29 Logan Street. The 100,000 square foot former box factory has been converted into restaurants, an event center, multiple retail establishments, and entertainment venues. The additional commercial space added to the business development and expansion opportunities in the downtown historic district.
Located in the Miller Business Complex is Burrito Bros., that began as a food truck and later opened in a small space on Main Street. The opportunity of tripling their square footage came a few years later when the Miller Business Complex opened. The owners of Burrito Bros. are GEM graduates.
The tour continued to the OG Building at 44 S Main Street and concluded at The Blanton House at 239 South Main Street. Owners of The Blanton House gave a tour of the 1914 home which has been restored for use as a restaurant and event venue. Afterward, complimentary coffee and dessert (an exquisite pumpkin roll with whipped cream) were served.
As a North Carolina Main Street Community since 2003, Marion has developed a multiphase revitalization plan for Historic Downtown Marion.
“The rate of return on public investment has been extraordinary,” said City Manager Bob Boyette. “Private investment has exceeded public investment by more than ten times.”
The Marion Business Association and the City of Marion provided the Alexander Historic Preservation Commission with many beneficial lessons and strategies as the HPC works to preserve the history and culture of Alexander County.