The Town of Benson is looking to step up its ongoing efforts to revitalize and promote downtown.
Town commissioners recently voted to become an N.C. Main Street Community. Benson had been in the N.C. Small Town Main Street Communities program since 2008.
Benson hopes the transition will connect it with other communities around the state so it can learn from their experience, said Mayor William Massengill.
“Our main street is the heart of Benson,” he said. “It’s important that we keep our downtown main street very active and commercially viable.”
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The N.C. Main Street Program is a state economic-development agency that works with towns of 50,000 or fewer residents. Participating communities receive technical assistance, guidance and training, as well as occasional access to grant funds. The program began in 1980 with five municipalities, including Salisbury, New Bern and Shelby. Smithfield got on board in 1986, and Clayton joined in 2006.
To upgrade from the small-town division, the state requires towns and cities to dedicate a full-time employee to their downtown-revitalization efforts. Benson met that requirement through Economic Development Director Karissa Bergene, who was already on staff, Massengill said.
Benson has benefited from working with the Main Street Program because the town has learned about tools it can use to promote development downtown, Massengill said. That has led Benson to create local grants that support new downtown businesses and another grant that helps existing businesses pay to improve the facades of their buildings.
“If you don’t know about options, you don’t implement them,” Massengill said.
Benson is one of nine towns that recently made the move up from the Small Town Main Street Program, according to the office of N.C. Commerce Secretary John Skvarla. The others are Ayden, Bessemer City, Cherryville, Elizabethtown, Tryon, Valdese, Waxhaw and Williamston.
The new members serve as role models for other towns interested in downtown revitalization, Skvarla said in a news release.
“If you can show just one great building reuse in a downtown center, more revitalization projects follow and that means many new jobs,” he said.
They join 56 existing Main Street communities. In 2014, those cities and towns boasted 248 new businesses, 110 business expansions and 1,011 new jobs in their downtowns, according to Skvarl’s office.