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Main Street Radford lost funding and leaders before its board voted to dissolve the organization.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
A former president complained that Main Street Radford had lost its focus on helping businesses grow.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
An economic development group dedicated to promoting downtown Radford ceased to exist on Sunday in the midst of a barrage from all fronts.
Main Street Radford saw its funding slashed, executive director laid off and former president resign in frustration within its final month.
Wally Galla, president of the Radford Chamber of Commerce and an ex officio member of the Main Street board, said the group voted unanimously to dissolve the organization. The date and time of the vote was unclear Tuesday.
“We believe this to be the best business decision for the Main Street organization and one that will ultimately lead to a stronger and more unified economic development effort in the City of Radford,” said a short news release from the group.
Main Street was a 23-year-old nonprofit organization of volunteers who worked to rejuvenate downtown Radford’s historic district. It was one of 26 designated Virginia Main Street communities. With that distinction, downtown Radford had access to expert advice for expanding the historic district.
To remain a designated community, the Virginia Main Street Program requires communities to have an independent Main Street organization that employs an executive director. Main Street Radford had already decided to lay off its executive director. And now that the organization has dissolved, the city falls short on both accounts.
But the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, which operates the program, said it’s not writing off Radford just yet. It plans to meet with city officials in the coming weeks to discuss their plan to move forward.
According to Amanda Pearson, a DHCD spokeswoman, long-term setbacks can cause a community to lose its designation, as Fredericksburg and Lexington lost theirs at one point. But in both cases the state continued to work with city officials. Today both have a functioning Main Street organization, and Fredericksburg was re designated this year.
“We will continue to work with Radford to assist them in creating a strong Main Street effort,” Pearson wrote in an email to The Roanoke Times.
Things started heating up at Main Street Radford when the city cut its funding from the usual $71,000 a year to $51,000 for 2014. The cutback forced the organization to lay off its executive director, Becky Haupt, effective July 1.
Then on June 10, Main Street Radford President Wanda Pearce spoke in front of the Radford City Council as it considered signing an agreement to pledge the 2014 funding.
Asked by the council whether she thought the city would get its money’s worth out of the program, Pearce candidly answered no.
“My opinion of the whole thing, it was broke when I came on board, it’s still broke,” she told the council after serving a year as president. “It’s not fixed. We don’t have committed people, we just really don’t. And I don’t know what the answer is.”
A few days later, Pearce stepped down as president of the organization.
Chief among her concerns was Main Street’s focus on community events. She thought the organization should put more energy toward helping struggling downtown Radford businesses and less toward hosting parties.
According to reports submitted to Virginia Main Street, the group used public funds in 2012 to host weekly farmers markets, a concert series, a chili festival, and events to celebrate Halloween, Easter and the start of the holiday season.
These events were fundraisers for the organization, but also aimed to bring foot traffic downtown.
“At some point along the way, I think it lost its luster and things weren’t being done as they should. Things didn’t get done. Volunteers weren’t committed,” Pearce said Tuesday. “I think if it’s dissolved and brought back at a later date, it will be better and stronger than it’s ever been in the past.”
In the meantime, the Radford Chamber of Commerce plans to step in and pick up the pieces.
All the businesses that paid dues to Main Street Radford have been invited to join the chamber free of charge. The surviving business group hopes to take over Main Street’s community events, including a weekly farmers market and Radford After Five concert series.
The chamber has also opened its doors to the former leaders of Main Street Radford. It is considering the possibility of the board members of the defunct organization forming some kind of committee within the chamber to focus on the historic district.
“We don’t want the downtown Radford businesses to think they’re going to be left alone,” Galla said.
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