Scriber and Gaye Hamilton, Cultural District Program Manager, were in Eunice Tuesday afternoon to drum up support for a volunteer board to direct Main Street revitalization.
Scriber said that prior to the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, approximately 90 percent of money earned within a community stayed within the community, usually being spent within its downtown area.
The interstate highway system led to a change in people’s lifestyles, Scriber said, as more and more people traveled out of their way to shop in major metropolitan areas.
Small towns and cities tried to compete with the major shopping centers, adding panels and other “modernizations” to historic buildings, but these additions only served to detract from the appearance and character of downtown areas, Scriber said.
In the 1970’s, the National Trust for Historic Preservation was created to attempt to reverse the trend, and in 1985, Louisiana joined the network.
There are currently 29 communities, including Eunice, and four New Orleans historic districts in the Louisiana Main Street program, Scriber said.
Scriber said the Main Street program uses a four-point approach focusing on areas on design, promotion, organization and economic restructuring.
Scriber said that a number of communities have been able to use the Main Street program’s methods to turn their downtown areas around, and cited Arnaudville as an example.
Located in St. Landry Parish, Arnaudville entrepreneur George Marks worked out a deal with property owners of vacant storefronts, and invited artists displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to use the stores as studios. Thirteen artists have moved permanently into town, and Marks’ NuNu’s serves as a collective for culinary, visual, music and performance arts.
“It’s become a real cultural destination,” Scriber said, “It’s just a matter of seizing opportunity, and these stories are happening all over the country.”
Scriber and Hamilton listed a number of Eunice’s assets, including its museums, the “Rendez Vous des Cajuns TV & Radio Show”, Louisiana State University Eunice, its Farmer’s Market, which opens May 23, and businesses such as Café Mosaic.
Alderman at-large Jack Burson noted that Café Mosaic is a “huge asset” to the community and has helped to revitalize Eunice’s downtown.
“If you compare it to what it was 15 years ago, it’s a huge improvement. I could have stepped outside my office at 221 North 2nd Street and fired a cannon south and not hit anyone,” Burson said.
Audience members raised concerns about businesses in Eunice’s downtown that detract from its historic character, such as pool halls and payday loan offices.
Others decried building owner apathy, saying business owners’ efforts are often stymied by building owners who do not want to improve their properties.
Scriber and Hamilton didn’t have any easy solutions, but suggested working with city government, recruiting property owners and finding ways that promote and recruit businesses that add to the downtown area’s character.
“You just need to try to be creative and see if there is a way around the problem,” Scriber said.
Scriber said that Main Street Coordinator Joan McManus needs community support to help revitalize Eunice’s downtown and generate new ideas.
“Joan cannot do it all; no one person can do it all. It needs to be a broad base of people,” Scriber said.
Information:” McManus 457-7389.