June 27--OXFORD -- The steps in front of Oxford's performing arts center was a fitting setting to officially announce the city's participation in a program meant to spur downtown revitalization.
City officials and residents stood outside the multi-million dollar center Thursday, which opened in May 2013, to mark Oxford's selection as a Main Street Alabama city.
All along Choccolocco Street in front of the center people milled around tables filled with fresh fruits and vegetables at the city's farmers market.
Oxford's selection as a Main Street Alabama city was announced June 2, but Thursday's event was a chance for officials with the national program to meet with press and the public.
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 foster downtown revitalization efforts nationwide.
"Downtown is going to be a cultural center," said Mary Helmer, state coordinator for Main Street Alabama, speaking outside the center Thursday.
A team of six staff members from Main Street programs across the country will meet with the Oxford residents, city officials and business leaders July 23-25, Helmer said. On the last day of the team's visit a rough plan of action will be presented showing what could happen to turn downtown Oxford into more of a draw for shoppers and entrepreneurs, Helmer explained
Oxford Councilwoman Charlotte Hubbard, who represented the city during the application process, said one of the next steps is for the city to hire a director to lead Oxford's program.
"We're going to take our time and find the right person," Hubbard said.
Hubbard, who also owns the downtown restaurant Hubbard's Off Main, said the goal is to make downtown a place where people "can feel comfortable and at home."
Oxford was joined in this year's selection with the cities of Decatur and Monroeville. All three join other Alabama municipalities already part of the program, which are Anniston, Alexander City, Athens, Birmingham, Dothan, Eufaula, Florence, Gadsden, Opelika and Selma.
Anniston joined the program in 1993, and has since changed the name from The Spirit of Anniston to Main Street Anniston.
Helmer said the key to a successful revitalization program comes down to community support.
Oxford's off to a good start, she said, in that local business leaders, community members and city officials all worked together during the application process.
"It works 100 percent of the time if the community is behind it," Helmer said.
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