OXFORD -- A chalkboard in the front of the meeting room inside the Oxford Civic Center Wednesday quickly filled with words attendees wrote denoting what they’d like downtown Oxford to become.
The list included descriptors such as fun, artsy, beautiful, quaint, inviting, an entertainment center, bustling, vibrant.
They originated with Oxford business owners, city officials and residents, there to take part in the first of three days of meetings and discussions as the city’s Main Street program — named Historic Oxford: A Mainstreet Community — gets underway.
Those meetings will wrap up Friday with the presentation of a rough plan of action to transform downtown Oxford, which has seen its share of customers decline with the rise of the city’s bustling Oxford Exchange shopping center.
Main Street Alabama is the state’s coordinating agency for the National Main Street Center, a nonprofit arm of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The mission of the program is to spur downtown revitalization efforts nationwide. Oxford’s selection as a Main Street Alabama city was announced June 2.
Among some of the suggestions from attendees Wednesday were to give downtown Oxford its own identity, market the area better and streetscaping. Some of the negatives given Wednesday were flooding problems downtown, a lack of safety and security and the existence of the methadone clinic there.
Gov. Robert Bentley spoke at the meeting, spending about 10 minutes addressing attendees.
“I heard y’all had plenty of money,” Bentley said, speaking of Oxford’s many millions in reserve.
“We did have, until I got these council members,” answered Mayor Leon Smith, drawing a round of laughter.
“I bet he is very frugal, and that’s not a bad thing,” Bentley responded.
Speaking of historic downtowns, Bentley said “it’s so important that we revitalize them.”
Oxford’s resource team, in town until Friday, is made up of Kathy LaPlante, National Main Street Center; Casey Wood, Emporia Main Street in Kansas; Randy Wilson, Community Design Solutions in Columbia, S.C.; and Jay Schlinsog, Tennessee-based Downtown Professionals Network.
Looking out over the room full of visitors, Smith commented to a reporter on the business owners among them.
“I’m a supporter of small business. I think I’ve got the track record to prove it,” Smith said.