Rebecca Cross: Looking ahead to new year: Past holds key to future

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ANew Year means new beginnings, a fresh start, new goals and hopes. Often, when thinking about the future, people tend to set aside the past and the “old.” However, there are parts of our past that we can, and should, keep because they are part of what defines us and makes us who we are. We must look ahead with passionate aspirations, yes. But we also must preserve our history.

As I’ve mentioned several times now, the mission of Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc. (ECDI) is to serve the entire community by acting as a catalyst for the revitalization of Downtown Elizabeth City and the waterfront by preserving its historical and architectural character. Preserve, revitalize and enhance!

Historic preservation, according to Wikipedia is “an endeavor that seeks to preserve, conserve and protect buildings, objects, landscapes or other artifacts of historical significance.” Historic preservation champions and protects places that tell the stories of our past. Our downtown is part of a Historic District and it defines our community’s character as it tells our story by its buildings and the waterfront. It is the heart of our community.

Our goal is to not only preserve the history and the architecture of our “heart,” but to revitalize and enhance it as well. One of the ways ECDI helps to accomplish this goal is through the matching Façade Incentive Grant Program. The purpose of this grant program is to promote storefront renovation and restoration of commercial buildings, and to encourage good design and workmanship on commercial properties within the Municipal Service District.

We’ve helped fund things like new awnings, new paint, and replacement windows. These have greatly enhanced some of our downtown properties. ECDI is also working to put more planters along Main Street to continue the beautification of this part of downtown.

New businesses also bring new life and enhancement to downtown. In the past month alone we have seen the opening of River City Bakery on Poindexter Street, Southern Yankee Boutique on Water Street, Thriftique on Road Street, and The Bead Spot on Water Street. Businesses like these operate in historical buildings, while meeting current needs and wants of consumers.

Shopping at downtown businesses keeps them open, and while they’re open, they maintain an active (historic) storefront, preserving the historic buildings and the purposes for which they were built. Our history. Our story. Our unique identity and character largely comes from our downtown.

“Cities and towns across the nation have come to see that a prosperous, sustainable community is only as healthy as its core”, explains the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Main Street is the economic engine, the big stage, the core of the community. Our Main Streets tell us who we are and who we were, and how the past has shaped us. We do not go to bland suburbs or enclosed shopping malls to learn about our past, explore our culture, or discover our identity. Our Main Streets are the places of shared memory where people still come together to live, work, and play.”

As we begin anew in 2013, let’s not forget our history that has made us who we are. And, let’s strive to revitalize the core, the heart, of our community in Downtown, with new passion and commitment. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Let’s ‘do what’s necessary’ to work together toward new beginnings as we preserve our past!

Rebecca Cross is executive director of Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc.