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A rough patch for Main St.

It’s been a bad news/good news week for the town of Spencer, and hence for the surrounding community as well.
The bad news was the turmoil surrounding the town’s participation in the state’s Small Town Main Street initiative. When the town was chosen to participate in the program a couple of years ago, local officials greeted the news enthusiastically and began brainstorming ways to create longterm economic revitalization and promote itself to a broader audience. There was a groundswell of support.
Now, committee work has been temporarily suspended after criticism from a state coordinator, who cited lack of cohesiveness and community “buy-in” as impediments to the project’s success. A split vote on suspending committee work — and heated reaction to the vote — appeared to bear out the perception that there’s disagreement on exactly what direction the Main Street plan should take.
However, there should be agreement on one component that’s central to any revitalization plan and Spencer’s future — the N.C. Transportation Museum — and that’s where the good news comes in. The museum has a vigorous champion and defender in former Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz, who now leads the state’s Department of Cultural Resources.
Speaking to the Rotary Club in Salisbury this week, Kluttz acknowledged that budget cuts had created rough going for improvements at the Spencer museum and other state sites. But even in an era of chronic underfunding, there are encouraging signs. Kevin Cherry, her deputy secretary and a former staffer at the Rowan Public Library, has been named interim director at the museum. The facility has been without a permanent director since November 2012. Cherry’s expertise in history and the importance of cultural resources, as well as his familiarity with the venue, suggests this is not simply a holding period but an opportunity to regroup, grow and do some repairs and updating. With an eye to the future, Kluttz also talked about the possibility of adding play areas for children, which would enhance family-oriented outings.
This represents a big vote of confidence for the Transportation Museum, Spencer’s major draw. But the town also has other important assets, including the passive park created at Spencer Woods, the historic district and an engaged group of homeowners and local shop proprietors. By leveraging such assets, the Main Street program has benefitted municipalities around the state, including Salisbury. It can work in Spencer, too. But for that to happen, community leaders will need to resolve the current disarray and recapture the earlier buy-in about making the most of the town’s main attractions.

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