This week the Oklahoma Main Street program is holding its annual program director and volunteer training session at the Train Depot Event Center in Ardmore. Main Street representatives across Oklahoma came to town for a series of sessions about growing and developing their communities. The majority of these sessions are being directed by Hilary Greenberg who has become a somewhat familiar face around Ardmore Main Street.
Greenberg visited last fall to create a business development strategy then returned in February to deliver her suggestions to the community. During a free moment at the Oklahoma Main Street event, she talked about the changes she’s seen since first coming to town as well as some of the challenges Main Street faces as it continues to grow.
“One of the problems in Ardmore is that they’ve had really good things happening for a long time, but they’ve happened sporadically,” Greenberg said. “So there hasn’t been consistency in building things up. Things will be going along well, and then the economy falls apart, or they’ll have some good projects then the Main Street manager leaves.
“What has changed is that you’re entering a time when the stars are all aligned, and now you can make some progress. There are still obstacles but the headwinds are less, so now is a good opportunity to make things happen.”
Greenberg said two key projects have increased the momentum of the Depot District — the completion of the first phase of the streetscape project and the construction beginning to take place at Depot Park.
“At first nobody ever believed the streetscape project would happen,” Greenberg said. “People hear talk about things but then they don’t expect anything to really happen. Once it was done some people expected all the merchants to go out of business because of the back-in parking. So the fact that you overcame that is actually, psychologically, pretty big.”
She said the same idea applies with Depot Park. At first it was an abstract idea, but now with work underway on the project and new announcements about funding taking place, it’s becoming a reality.
“As a community, you’ve had the courage to come up with a plan and then translate that into getting something done,” Greenberg said. “That then translates into more people becoming motivated to get involved.”
Looking forward, Greenberg says one of the biggest challenges ahead lies in drawing people into the downtown area and determining what to do with all of the buildings.
“The challenge that remains is you have so much commercial development on the edge of the town, which is great for Ardmore overall, but what’s left for downtown?” Greenberg asked. “Then the problem in downtown Ardmore is you have a very big footprint. If you had a downtown one-third the size every building would be pristine. Every building will be filled, and you already have buildings like that. But there are more buildings that aren’t.”
Greenberg suggests thinking outside of the box with creative ways to fill downtown spaces could help elevate that issue.
“The truth is you can’t fill every single store front with retail. You just can’t,” Greenberg said. “We’ve got to look for some non-retail uses. We’ve got to look for some more office employment, and other new opportunities.”
The Oklahoma Main Street meeting will conclude this morning. Afterwards Greenberg will meet with the Ardmore Main Street Authority board of directors to take a look at the development strategy and offer new suggestions about how to grow moving forward.