After nearly 10 years as Mount Airy’s Main Street coordinator, Lizzie Morrison is leaving to take a state position.
Morrison’s departure was announced today by the Board of Directors of Mount Airy Downtown Inc. (MAD), which states that the board has accepted Morrison’s resignation from that organization.
“I will be with MAD through April,” the Main Street coordinator added later.
Morrison is taking a new job that will involve some of the same functions she performed locally, but on a regional basis.
“I’m excited to accept the position of economic-development planner of the Piedmont Triad Region for the North Carolina Department of Commerce,” she explained. The Department of Commerce oversees the state Main Street program that seeks to improve downtown districts in communities including Mount Airy.
“I am looking forward to joining the amazing North Carolina Main Street and Rural Planning Center team to continue the invigorating work of helping rural economies grow,” Morrison advised.
The governing board of Mount Airy Downtown says it accepted Morrison’s resignation “with mixed emotions,” recognizing that she will have a broader role other than just the local downtown area.
“We are so proud of all that she has achieved here,” reads a joint statement issued by the board, which is headed by Bryan Grote and also includes Jerry Coram Jr., Holli Nowlin, Greg Perkins, Gene Rees, Jessica Roberts, Andi Schnuck, Anna Kriska, Ted Ashby and Amy Slate among its membership ranks.
“But we also are very excited about her future with the North Carolina Department of Commerce-North Carolina Main Street and Rural Planning Center,” the board’s statement continues.
“She will have a bigger platform through which to focus on rural economic development for the entire Piedmont Triad region — our loss, in a narrow sense, is the region’s gain.”
Morrison, a 2005 graduate of Mount Airy High School who later earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from Auburn University, became Main Street coordinator on July 1, 2013, one of about 20 applicants for the position. She previously served as director of arts with the Surry Arts Council, beginning in March 2012.
The ultimate goal of the Main Street program Morrison spearheaded locally is expanding economic and job opportunities.
In summarizing her work here, she lists as a notable accomplishment the redevelopment of the former Spencer’s Inc. textile manufacturing facilities in the central business district with which Mount Airy Downtown has played a key role.
Specifically, Morrison mentioned multi-phased plans now in the works for a Marriott Tribute boutique hotel and event space, and new visitor and conference center after that on the Spencer’s site.
“At completion of all three phases, the Spencer’s Mill redevelopment initiative will represent more than $60 million of downtown investment, with many more indirect investments to follow,” the outgoing coordinator detailed.
“More importantly, it will represent an authentic Mount Airy story and new job opportunities for the next generation,” according to Morrison. “The rocket has been launched for the largest economic-development initiative in the history of Surry County.”
The coordinator expressed pride in having “been part of the team that got us here, and I can’t wait for my children to see the preservation of our shared built history in this project. They will know their home has changed for the better, and I hope it cultivates a love of place for them and their peers.”
Not always smooth
A degree of controversy has surrounded the longtime coordinator’s tenure here. That included being part of a movement to declare an area near West Pine and North South streets as blighted and use that as a springboard for developing a “gateway” to the city there, despite the presence of existing businesses.
This became a central issue for the 2015 municipal election in which candidates backing that proposal were defeated and led city officials to dissolve a key group that was involved, the Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission.
Last fall, another controversy emerged surrounding a downtown master plan supported by Morrison and approved in a 3-2 vote by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.
Many citizens — and merchants in the central business district — opposed the plan, including holding a protest march on Oct. 9.
Opponents have viewed the plan’s recommendations for new flex spaces accommodating outdoor dining and additional elements — along with landscaping and other cosmetic changes, including tree plantings — as undermining what already is a charming, and thriving, downtown.
Morrison acknowledged such sentiments in comments she issued Tuesday regarding the resignation and her belief that the downtown area has been improved over the past decade.
“Some of you may disagree about that changing Mount Airy for the better thing — that’s OK,” she stated. “You care about this community, and I encourage you to channel that concern into good deeds, community action and openness. There is room for everyone at the table, just as there is room for the next generation.”
Morrison believes she “gave it my all. Blood, sweat, tears, and paint. Leading this team has made me better, older, wiser.”
The MAD board applauded Morrison’s tenure.
“We have had an amazing 10-year run with Lizzie at the helm since July 2013,” its statement about her resignation says.
“Mount Airy has become a much livelier, stronger place since then and we are confident about being able to continue the great work and positive vision for our downtown,” it notes, while also referencing the fears about new ideas.
“Not only is change inevitable, it also can be an opportunity for renewed commitment. As Lizzie consistently reminds all of us, downtown is the economic engine of Mount Airy and a favorite neighborhood for many residents and visitors alike.”
The board says those efforts will continue, with an applications now being accepted for Morrison’s successor. “The future is bright, thanks to Lizzie in no small part, and there is much work ahead,” its statement notes.
“In closing, we give heartfelt thanks to our dear colleague and friend — as well as a big bravo. Well done.”
Morrison also made mention of the new person who’ll take over, in her departing comments.
“As we pivot, please remember that whoever is in this position next is a human being. They have their own life challenges, experiences and family to protect. The enemy of economic growth is apathy, not someone with a different opinion than ours. Communities thrive when we work together.”
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