Tuesday, Jun 18 2013 12:00 AM

Guest Commentary: Main Street Tehachapi could be revitalized

A long time supporter and active participant in the Main Street Tehachapi program, I was surprised by the board decision to dissolve Main Street Tehachapi.

Many individuals and businesses have devoted a tremendous amount of time and resources over the past 13 years to make Main Street Tehachapi a big success. Much of the vibrancy of downtown is due to MST's efforts.

The City of Tehachapi initially supported the process by funding an assessment study performed by Main Street National to determine the feasibility of establishing a local Main Street. Through the years, the city has supported MST's efforts by helping in planning, providing event assistance from Public Works and police support. Just as importantly, when Redevelopment Agency funds were available, fixed costs were covered by an annual grant from the city.

While most Tehachapians know MST for the many fun and entertaining events that bring our residents and out of towners to the historic downtown area, the Main Street program operates under guidelines from the National Trust for Historic Preservation with a four-point program to rehabilitate, preserve and enhance business districts. Seminars have been held to help business owners with advertising, store design, business outreach and other topics.

Other facets include the work of the Design Committee, which has made a fundamental impact on downtown. The renovation of Railroad Park from a dusty, cluttered area with no sidewalks was achieved under the committee chairperson at that time, Marcia Smith. Design, funding and construction was largely achieved through grants, fund raising and hands on volunteers. Likewise, selection of the decorative downtown street lighting, initial design of Centennial Plaza and other projects such as redesign and color selection for downtown buildings and often times even the painting of buildings by volunteers.

Two other enduring elements of downtown are the summer Farmer's Market and the murals programs, two projects from the initial year of MST and which have been tremendous favorites of residents.

I have attended several state conferences on Main Street Communities over the last 12 years and have seen programs that operate solely with volunteer and grassroots support, others with one employee, and in larger cities, several well funded programs with six to eight employees. The Main Street program stresses the adaptation of the guidelines to our particular and unique community and making incremental improvements that grow over time.

With all that has been accomplished, it would be a mistake to now dissolve Tehachapi's Main Street program, one that has brought new life to the heart of the city, aided by the infrastructure improvements undertaken by the city, mostly through grants.

I believe that by restructuring the MST Board of Directors by keeping those current members who wish to continue to serve, adding new members with fresh ideas and asking some of the original members from the past to serve once more, MST can be restructured as an all-volunteer organization, until such time as it can be expanded again.

I would say that MST can be reinvented to serve the community under current market conditions. By cutting back on events and programs, we will be poised to grow, incrementally, as the economy continues to rebound.

Downtown areas decline over the course of years as development moves away from the core, which was happening in Tehachapi. There is no denying that downtown Tehachapi has become a much more vibrant and entertainment area in the past decade, mostly with the help of MST.

I hope the current MST Board will allow those who have a fervent interest in continuing the MST program to join them in exploring the possibilities that still exist to help Downtown Tehachapi grow and prosper. Those who would dissolve MST can step aside and let others formulate a plan to continue this valuable program.

CHARLES WHITE is a former president of Main Street Tehachapi.

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