The second time has proven to be the charm for Mount Airy in being awarded $475,000 for a makeover of Franklin Street downtown after an earlier grant application was turned down.
Gov. Roy Cooper announced today that this city and 28 other local governments across the state had been approved for a total of $8 million in assistance through the Rural Transformation Grant Fund of the N.C. Department of Commerce.
State officials consider that program to be a “robust source” of support for rural economic-development projects in North Carolina.
In Mount Airy’s case, the $475,000 is targeting improvements to Franklin Street, including burying overhead power lines, implementing a flex concept sidewalk configuration, adding decorative lighting and creating Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility.
The grant will support what an announcement from the state calls “a transformational initiative” downtown through the streetscape initiative.
This involves connecting the city’s historic North Main Street to its Mill District — the former Spencers’s textile property, now owned by the municipality, where a Marriott Hotel and another projects are eyed as part of major redevelopment efforts launched in 2014.
Last year, Mount Airy submitted an earlier grant application for assistance from the Rural Transportation Grant Fund in the sum of $950,000, which was unsuccessful. It was sought for a major facelift of the municipal parking lot on Franklin Street, including landscaping and resurfacing.
That lot, a key parking resource downtown, was constructed in 1977, with little maintenance occurring since.
Earlier this year, the city government again applied for Rural Transportation Grant Fund assistance through its downtown revitalization category, also for $950,000, to finance the latest streetscape initiative.
“They gave us half of what the best we could have gotten was,” Mayor Jon Cawley said today of state officials after their grant announcement.
Cawley said he “greatly appreciated” work by municipal staff members in achieving that result, specifically mentioning Assistant City Manager Darren Lewis.
The mayor added that the challenge now is to determine the scope of work to be done with the funding available.
“I have no idea what it would cost to bury the power lines,” he said of one element involved, which city officials determined to be cost-prohibitive when exploring that option several years ago.
In discussing other potential uses for the grant, Cawley mentioned what would be a major change for the portion of Franklin Street from North Main to the area of Willow Street.
“There have been discussions about making that a one-way street and doing away with the traffic light,” the mayor said of the stoplight at the North Main/Franklin intersection.
This would allow sidewalks on Franklin to be widened and made ADA-compliant, he explained.
“I know that’s been discussed.”
But Cawley stressed that no definite plans have been agreed upon at this point.
“Nothing has been decided,” the mayor said. “There will be a lot of discussions before any decisions are made.”
The Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce also played a role in the successful grant request, including a visit to the Franklin Street area in May by state Secretary of Rural Economic Development Kenny Flowers, in which a chamber group played a key role.
“I’m very proud of Tonda Phillips and the Public Policy Committee in giving him a tour around town and showing him what areas would be affected and lobbying for the grant,” chamber President and CEO John Pynakker said today. Phillips is a chamber member who chairs that committee.
“We think it’s awesome,” Pynakker said of Mount Airy’s grant award.
“I think it will be very beneficial to that area,” he said of the Franklin Street vicinity being revived with new infrastructure.
It is always good to improve the appearance of a key section of town, particularly from a tourism perspective, the chamber official stressed.