The Mississippi Main Street Association‘s award for Outstanding Community Transformation is given each year to a Main Street program that has achieved a successful, preservation-based downtown revival. The recognized program will have accomplished major goals in downtown revitalization and has both qualitative and quantitative examples to show the measurable impact. A heavy emphasis is placed on the human resources it took to accomplish the work. On June 21, 2018, Laurel Main Street board president, Lew Yoder, accepted this honor at the annual MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards in Jackson, MS. The following narrative was written by Ethan Davis and was submitted to the Mississippi Main Street judges panel.
Outstanding Community Transformation
How do you bring a town back? It’s a question that has no easy answers, and the answers that are given usually require years and more work than one might ever imagine. However, for Downtown Laurel, there is no question that the town has been revived in a powerful way.
It all started when a group of people who loved Laurel sat down together in a room and decided to start a Main Street Program. They couldn’t afford to pay the director or start projects or offer services, but they knew they had to do something to save their hometown. That group became Laurel Main Street’s first board. From there that group changed and grew. When one person couldn’t serve anymore, someone stepped in to fill the space, and here we are a decade later: Mississippi’s Downtown.
The change took time; it happened slowly, then all at once. LMS worked constantly to make Laurel a place where people wanted to live, work, and play. Projects of all shapes and sizes had to take place, and business recruitment was paramount. Results were small at first, but they grew with time.
About two years ago, things really started heating up. The events and promotions LMS produces had kept a steady stream of people interested in the downtown, which put us on the radar of some people with great hope for what Laurel could be. They pursued their dreams using LMS as a starting point and support system along the way. In the past two years, more than a dozen businesses have opened in Downtown Laurel representing millions in private investment, and more are coming. Vacant buildings are now the exception rather than the rule, and a person can spend all day downtown and still not visit all of the stores.
The local business owners are the hero of this story because they took a risk when no one else would. But, it never would have happened if that original group hadn’t met. It never would have happened if dedicated volunteers hadn’t served at LMS events or if the community hadn’t welcomed each new addition to the downtown family. LMS stands at the center of a web that is filled with people who are willing to work hard every day to make Laurel their home and to make their home worth preserving. The truly amazing thing is that the idea of Downtown Laurel is now an exciting one; it’s a place where change happens and futures are crafted. It’s a place where history is lived and not just remembered.