Mari Howe can envision a better and more vibrant downtown five years from now.
She sees thriving businesses, a popular recreation center, new restaurants, maybe a brewery, retail stores and folks just hanging out.
“For people like my husband and I and our friends, we really like the idea of being able to come downtown, take our dogs to the dog park, grab some coffee on our way back, kind of sit out, hang out with a friend. If we want to go out, we might go get dinner somewhere and then go get a beer to finish out the night.”
That is why she applied for the downtown manager position, tasked with leading the charge to revitalize Garner’s historic downtown, which has seen slow growth in recent years.
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A Michigan native, Howe moved to Garner a little more than a year ago. Howe was selected through a staff-managed assessment-center-type process. It included representation from town administrative staff, peer staff, Town Council and the GRA Board of Directors.
She started her position on May 18.
“As I get more connected with the community and learn what people are doing, it’s hard not to get excited about what’s happening in Garner,” Howe said. “Not just in downtown but everywhere. It’s going to be a really great place.”
Revitalizing downtown has been among the top priorities of the town and the GRA. Part of the bond voters passed in 2013 addresses revitalizing downtown.
And a few months ago, the town council made the downtown development manager position, a town position to entice highly qualified candidates. The position is now part of the Economic Development Department.
Howe, also an artist, said another thing she has an interest in is having regularly scheduled pop up markets, which allows businesses to set up shop for a short period of time.
“It’s one of those things that is gaining a lot of popularity,” Howe said. “We have so many interesting artists and crafters in the Triangle area... I just really like the idea of doing that once a month. It’s a way to bring people downtown.”
Howe also likes the idea of breweries coming to downtown. One potential brewery, Brice’s Brewery, has expressed interest in locating downtown. They are currently trying to raise capital to make that happen.
Howe said Garner residents are interested in creative business and would be willing to come more than once a month to shop there.
“I think it’s a great way to demonstrate the interest for it,” Howe said.
Assistant Town Manager John Hodges agreed that pop up markets are a good idea.
“You never know which one of these pop up shops might end up being a person that eventually opens a more permanent space or two or three get together,” Hodges said.
Hodges said there have been some retailers who have expressed interest in making downtown Garner their permanent home. He said he’s confident Howe can get things done.
“Mari’s educational background, work experience and knowledge of the Garner community make her an ideal fit for this position,” Hodges said. “I am excited to have someone with her skills set lead the next chapter of our downtown development efforts.”
Hodges said Howe will have three tasks. One will be to manage Garner’s Main Street program. The second will be to continue to market historic downtown Garner plan. Third will be serving a liaison to and managing the Garner Revitalization Association.