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Salisbury to host N.C. Main Street Conference this week

SALISBURY — Some 450 people from 120 communities will descend on downtown Salisbury this week for what’s expected to be one of the largest N.C. Main Street Conferences ever.
Why the big turnout?
“It’s Salisbury,” said Liz Parham, director of the N.C. Office Urban Development, which organizes the annual downtown summit. “People find Salisbury really interesting.”
The event, which started in 2000 and attracts people interested in downtown revitalization, usually draws between 350 and 400 people from about 110 communities, Parham said.
New Bern hosted the largest conference a few years ago. Both New Bern and Salisbury are two of the original Main Street communities in North Carolina and the United States.
Participants “like to go to the early communities to see what you can do over a 32-year period of time,” Parham said.
Salisbury competed against other cities to host the 2013 conference, which starts Wednesday and runs through Friday and features workshops, tours, an awards ceremony and nationally known speakers. Most events are sold out, but three tours are available Wednesday afternoon, as well as a few workshops Thursday and a keynote address Friday.
Registration will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Trolley Barn, 125 E. Liberty St.
Conference-goers are expected to spend up to $150,000 in Salisbury hotels, restaurants, gas stations and stores, according to James Meacham, executive director for Rowan Tourism. Downtown merchants will stay open late Wednesday to welcome participants and their wallets.
Dubbed “Main Street: Innovation, Collaboration and Impact,” the conference will use seven downtown locations for meeting space, including the Trolley Barn, Salisbury Depot, Rowan Museum, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, F&M Professional Center and downtown’s three theaters — the Meroney, Norvell and Black Box.
Participants will crisscross city streets for three days.
“To be the host is an opportunity to show off the good work that Salisbury has been doing,” Parham said. “The last time Salisbury hosted was 2006. Seven years later, you all have done a lot more work, and people want to see what you’ve done.”
The conference kicks off Wednesday night with a reception at the Trolley Barn featuring wine from Morgan Ridge. Twenty-five vendors will set up during the conference in the Trolley Barn, where Fibrant will provide complimentary wireless.
All attendees will go home with a welcome bag including a variety of gifts, discounts, gift cards and promotional items specific to Salisbury and Rowan County, and Salisbury Tourism’s two new trolley cars will be on display and used for the conference.
The Salisbury-Rowan Convention and Visitors Bureau, headed by Meacham, and Downtown Salisbury Inc., led by Randy Hemann, put together the pitch to win the conference.
When communities compete to host the event, state officials look at all aspects of the city’s downtown, Parham said. They consider the business mix, current or recent projects, what highlights guests could take in during tours and long-term successes, as well as practical considerations like how many volunteers the community can muster and whether they have enough hotels and restaurants to accommodate 450 people, she said.
More than 50 local volunteers have pulled together the Salisbury conference, led by Mark Lewis, chairman of the Main Street Conference Planning Committee
Parham said she was swayed by the number and variety of meeting venues available in Salisbury, as well as the unique connection between the Meroney and Norvell theaters, which will co-host Thursday night’s award ceremony.
Fifteen breakout sessions on Thursday will feature topics ranging from how to bring more fresh, local food downtown to how to build consensus.
Several Salisbury experts are among the professionals presenting topics, including:
• Cheryl Goins of Pottery 101, “Economics of Education”
• Gray Stout, architect, “What To Do With My Second Floor”
• Bill Greene, business banker and Reid Leonard, director for Piedmont Players Theatre, “ Drama on Main: A Tale of Three Theaters”
• Diane Young, executive director for Concord Downtown Development Corporation, “Keeping It Local: Building an Effective Shop Local Program”
• Heather St. Aubin-Stout, architectural consultant, “Resilient Downtowns”
• Randy Hemann, executive director for Downtown Salisbury, “Preservation as an Economic Engine: Just the Facts”
• Greg Shields, network solutions architect for CenturyLink, “Street Smarts: From Parking to Public Space”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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