Consultant: Plan to capitalize on area assets

May 6, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

Having a plan to capitalize on and enhance the historical and cultural assets of Martinsville and Henry County was a main message Thursday night from consultant Edward T. McMahon.

McMahon, a senior resident fellow with Urban Land Institute based in Washington, D.C., presented facts and showed slides of communities across America to about 50 people gathered in the old Henry County courthouse in uptown Martinsville.

"Community leaders have to have a vision for its future," McMahon said. "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

McMahon?s presentation was sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which received grant money from The Harvest Foundation and the Public Welfare Foundation, according to Martinsville Uptown Revitalization Association Executive Director Marshall Stowe.

Harry Cerino, The Harvest Foundation?s executive director, listened to McMahon?s presentation.

"The folks here have to develop a vision," Cerino said after the presentation. "We could help to facilitate it, and we have the resources to bring in people to work with local residents to see what we can do. The only thing we have is money, and we need vision, leadership and courage from the city and county."

McMahon said tourism is the number one industry in the world, and Martinsville and Henry County needs to distinguish itself and take actions such as identifying and preserving historic buildings and restoring facades to their original appearance.

He also said community leaders should not accept just any economic development proposal that comes up, but they should raise their expectations and ask for more. An example he gave was not to accept "cookie cutter" architecture from chains and franchises and demand that new construction projects have a theme that fits into the area?s culture.

"You want new construction that improves a community?s character," McMahon said. "Businesses like McDonald?s will only build something different in communities that are smart enough to ask."

McMahon showed pictures of McDonald?s, Wal-Marts and gas stations across the nation that were designed to look like "attractive places," such as a country store and a train depot.

"All development isn?t the enemy," he said. "The problem is patterns of development."

Historical memorials and landmarks should be preserved and not commercialized and built up around, he continued. He also stressed the importance of public art such as murals and statues and the value of trees and attractive landscaping.

Invest in yourself and people will invest in you, McMahon told the audience. He also said optimistic people should speak up and always beat out pessimistic people, who he called "cave people."

Reed Creek Supervisor Andy Parker praised McMahon?s presentation.? "He gave a lot of good points," Parker said. "We?ve go to educate our citizenry about the assets we have like Smith River and Philpott Lake. We?ve got a lot of people who are content with the way this place looks, so it?s up to the community?s leadership to create momentum."

Coats Clark of Stuart also attended McMahon?s presentation and said she took detailed notes to take back to community leaders in Patrick County. "If you don?t remember anything I say tonight, remember this - the image of community is fundamentally important to its economic viability," McMahon said.


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