By Victoria Howell
The Stevensville Main Street Association (SMSA) has completed another successful year working in partnership with local businesses and the town government to maintain a strong base of healthy businesses in the historic downtown. The event year was completed on December 7 with a full house at the annual ‘Splendor on Main’ gala at Rocky Mountain Bank.
The 13-year-old Stevensville Main Street program, which is accredited at the state and national levels, focuses on economic development and historic preservation.
According to Joan Prather, Executive Director, more than 2100 volunteer hours were logged on behalf of the program and nearly $8000 in grant funding was received. SMSA received a $3000 grant from the state Main Street program to produce and install informational plaques on historically significant buildings in the downtown. A grant from NorthWestern Energy will fund security lights at Lewis & Clark Park and Creamery Park. According to information included in reports filed with the state, five new businesses opened in Stevensville in 2013, bringing 12 full-time jobs and three part-time positions. About $740,000 was invested in relocations and new business startups.
New holiday banners were created and installed along Main Street in the downtown district. The project was jointly funded by SMSA and the Stevensville Civic Club, along with a grant from the Stevensville Community Foundation. Sadly, Cindy Tharinger, the main designer of the banners, passed away in November. Tharinger was a longtime volunteer on the association’s Design Committee. Although her health was declining rapidly in the last few months, she was able to complete the designs for the new holiday banners just prior to her passing. A memorial fund has been set up in her name, in care of the Main Street Association.
Also in 2013, a special committee facilitated by SMSA’s economic development committee studied the parking situation and recently completed a report which was presented to the Stevensville Town Council. The report documents current parking availability, identifies future needs and offers potential solutions.
The Stevensville Main Street Association had 97 dues-paying members in 2013, including 32 Main Street businesses, 29 associate members (businesses not located on Main Street) and 25 individual or family memberships. In 2013, there were at least five sustaining members (invested at least $1500) in the association.
Paul Ludington, who has been on the Main Street board of directors for many years, served as president of the organization in 2013.
“Sometimes it seems like it takes so long time for things to come to a reasonable conclusion,” said Ludington. “For example, the street enhancement project. Granted the physical work was just a summer but the work that went into getting the grant and designing the project encompassed more than two years. Main Street needs to continue to look ahead at the future needs of this community.”
Ludington went on to say, “We have accomplished a great deal for this town. I know that people may not always see that but we have to keep that in mind when we look at where we are at today and where Stevensville would be if SMSA had not been there to keep the community moving forward.”
SMSA recently completed a contract for services with the Town of Stevensville in the amount of $5500. The association performs a variety of functions that assist the local government, including assistance with planning issues, providing information and advocacy for new and existing businesses, development and maintenance of a business database, grant research and application.
In a bizarre twist, at a town council meeting on December 12, during council deliberations on a new contract with SMSA, Kim French, a resident of the Stevensville area who lives outside the town limits, unexpectedly delivered 16 anonymously completed surveys to council members. The survey, entitled “Main Street Questionnaire”, included questions about the Main Street Association and the Town of Stevensville. Neither SMSA or the town officials were aware that any survey had been circulating. Of the 16 anonymously completed surveys, five purported to be from business owners. Responses were generally negative in regards to questions about the value of the Main Street program.
On the Friday following the meeting, Prather polled the SMSA database by email to see if anyone had received, or responded to, the bogus survey. As of this Monday, she had received 28 responses, 20 of them from businesses, with not a single report that any had seen the survey. Prather has since notified Main Street members that the survey has no connection to either the organization or the town government.
Michael Sharkey, owner of Watchmaker to the Stars, is the newly elected president for 2014.
“One thing that stands out to me is we have such a strong volunteer base for such a small town,” says Sharkey. “I hope the many volunteers understand how grateful we are, not only as a business organization but as a community, for the effort, time and resources volunteers contribute during the year. I say a hearty thank you to all, without them we would not exist.”
Sharkey feels that one development that is making the organization better is the growing partnership with town government and town leadership. “I am grateful for that and will continue to foster our relationship,” he said.
“The coming year brings several challenges, some annual and some new challenges,” said Sharkey. “One of my efforts will be to address the speed at which we accomplish our endeavors. I also would like to see our website utilized to a greater degree. This is going to require added assistance to make it the success I envision.”
“Part of our mission as an organization is to promote and develop a strong and healthy business community,” said Sharkey. To facilitate this, he plans to form a subcommittee “to develop an information package that we can use to solicit businesses to come to Stevensville.”
“In conjunction with this,” said Sharkey, “we will be going out and soliciting businesses on a monthly basis. I am looking to develop a means of soliciting ideas and information from our members that will allow us to build the business community we already have. Both programs are vital to promoting and growing Stevensville, not only as ‘where Montana began’ but also ‘where Montana is going’.”