By Hannah Curran, Editor
LEEDS — The City of Leeds is applying for Main Street Alabama, a branch off of the larger Main Street USA, to become a “Designated Community.”
Main Street Alabama is a nonprofit solely focused on revitalizing historic downtowns in Alabama. Three cities are chosen a year from the many that apply. Main Sreet Alabama comes into the city and analyzes what the downtown merchants, the leaders, and the citizens want the historic downtown to look like.
Becoming a Main Street Alabama Designated Community is an extremely lengthy process due in May 2022. Communities who want to be Designated Community must first attend a workshop in February. Next, a Letter of Intent is required from the city stating the city intends to apply to be a Designated Community. Once Main Street Alabama receives the Letter of Intent, an application is sent to the committee chair.
Tiffiany Abel Ward is the vice president of retail banking for millennial bank and vice president for the Leeds Area Chamber of Commerce, helping with the Main Street Alabama application process said that the application process is long.
“It requires lots of work and resources, on the part of the entire town to be able to put this piece together, it requires pictures that require landmarks, where those landmarks are in relation to East, West, South, North,” Ward said. “It requires historical data about what makes up the town, population demographic data, how many vacant buildings are downtown, how many buildings have a first and second story, you have to determine what your mapping is, what you want your designated downtown or designated Main Street to be.”
Ward explained that the application requires cities to create a projected budget, a pledge form so that people in the community businesses and individuals can say, “this is something that we want to get on and support, and we are going to pledge ‘X’ amount of dollars each year to this project.”
“The second piece to that is an in-person presentation about your city, and that happens on May 25,” Ward said. “The other cities that have applied in the past and have made it to that, in-person application process, they pull out all the stops. People are writing plays, singing songs, playing fiddle, playing the piano. I mean, they are really highlighting their town, and it’s pretty cutthroat as far as the in-person presentation goes in May; they pick their person in June, and then they are in the new designated community July 1.”
Kristy Biddle, a Leeds resident and a stay-at-home mom who is helping lead the charge on the Main Street Application, explained that Main Street Alabama has an overwhelmingly successful four-point system.
“They implement [a four-point system] just to jumpstart and then continue the revitalization process,” Biddle said.
Originally from Jasper, Biddle saw her hometown be “revitalized” after becoming a Designated Community. She said that once her family moved to Leeds, she saw the same potential in the downtown area and wanted Leeds to apply to become a Designated Community.
“The revitalization that has happened there is almost mind-blowing,” Biddle said. “They have restaurants and breweries and just a lot of things that appeal to all different ages and stages of life.”
Biddle explained that the change that would be implemented if Leeds becomes a Designated Community could bring more business to the downtown area of Leeds.
“Our hope is that it brings business to our downtown area, while also keeping the small-town charm that we have here in Leeds, we want to keep money in the city and provide jobs,” Biddle said.
Ward said that if Leeds becomes a Designated Community, it would bring jobs, money, more attention to the downtown space.
“Continuing the ongoing revitalization that the chamber and the RDA have already started,” Ward said. “It’s an opportunity to partner with Main Street and become a business community. It helps support new business in Main Street itself because the reach that they have, they have the resources to recruit and revitalize.”
Some teachers and students at Leeds High School are getting involved in the application process by taking on a portion of the application, making it their end-of-the-year project, and helping create community awareness.
“It’s hard to disseminate information, piece by piece,” Ward said. “We’ve had meetings with the City Council, just to help us create awareness about how this could change the trajectory of Leeds, and just having community support.”
Biddle explained that if Leeds is picked, it will help Main Street as a nonprofit. A meeting is planned for Wednesday, March 23, at 6 p.m. at the Leeds Arts Council for anyone who wants to be a part of the process of Main Street Alabama.
“The whole idea is to leverage the assets that already exist in the community,” Biddle said. “We’re gaining some momentum just by word of mouth here, but we would just love to spread the information to people who may not have any idea what’s going on. So this sort of is an opportunity to spread that information.”
According to the Main Street Alabama website, Main Street programs are more than having great events and making downtown look better. At its core, Main Street is an economic development tool that enhances the tax base of a community, fosters entrepreneurship, builds community capacity, and creates partnerships among key groups in a community.
For more information about the City of Leeds application process to become a Designated Community, email firstname.lastname@example.org or join the Leeds Main Street Facebook page.