Organizers of an effort to further transform Apalachicola’s commercial area with the help of three years of intensive training and technical assistance are celebrating today the state’s announcement the city has been designated as the newest Florida Main Street community.

A luncheon was held at Veranda’s Bistro on September 1 to mark the first day of the program, followed by a community celebration at Riverfront Park that evening. The community celebration featured food, music and a toast to the new designation.

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning on Friday announced the designation of Apalachicola as part of the statewide Florida Main Street program, following an Aug. 25 recommendation of the ad hoc Florida Main Street Advisory Committee.

Organizations represented on the committee included Haines City Main Street, Florida Department of Community Affairs, Florida Division of Historical Resources, Florida League of Cities Florida Redevelopment Association, National Trust Main Street Center, and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.

In a press release, Browning welcomed Apalachicola to the Main Street program, which he said “successfully encourages economic development in historic locations like Apalachicola and emphasizes the traditional assets of downtown – local ownership, personal service and a sense of community.”

Browning’s announcement follows a year-long effort by Historic Apalachicola Inc. to secure the designation. Earlier this year, city commissioners gave their blessing to the application, which was the only one received by the Florida Main Street program this year.

Joan Jefferson, director of the Florida Main Street program, said the state had the option to designate up to three cities, but could have rejected Apalachicola’s application if it had not been up to the program’s standards for community involvement.

Regular updates on the organizational efforts of Historic Apalachicola Inc. had been provided to city commissioners by Joe Taylor, registered agent for the not-for-profit organization, or by Jamie Atkinson, who chairs the organization’s board of directors.

Also serving on the volunteer board are Harry Arnold, Leon Bloodworth, Daphne Davis, Frank Cook, Lynn Wilson Spohrer, Pam and George Mahr, George Coon, Jim Bachrach and Shirley Pace.

The only paid member of the fledgling group is Paulette Moss, who was recently named as a part-time program manager, a requirement for any cities of under 5,000 population. Larger cities are required to hire a full-time downtown manager to meet Main Street requirements.

Details as to where Moss and the Main Street office are still being worked out, but currently she works both out of her home as well as the Sponge Exchange on Water Street, renamed the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and Art and staffed for 20 hours a week by Historic Apalachicola Inc. under an arrangement with the city.

Jefferson said Main Street will provide training and technical assistance for at least three years to Apalachicola, beginning with a “reconnaissance visit” in late September or early October, some time after Main Street’s upcoming state conference in Deland.

“At that visit we’ll simply try to establish three goals for each of the four committees,” she said. “This is kind of a starting place.”

Once goals have been hammered out for the design, organization, promotion and economic restructuring committees the state program will bring in to Apalachicola in January four consultants, each certified by the national Main Street Center as proficient in each of the areas, to spend a half-day educating volunteers.

Jefferson said guidelines will enable the city to draw one consultant service the first year, two the next, and another the third year.

At the end of the first year there’ll be a three-day resource visit, with four experts who will spend three days in the community to assess positive changes and ongoing challenges.

“We’re not there to tell them (a city) what to do,” Jefferson said. “We find out what they want to do and bring the tools for that to happen. Hopefully they know what they’d like to do.

“This is not a cookie cutter process,” she said. “We sincerely try to understand the community and help them do what they want to do.”

Jefferson also noted that “this is not a merchants association; this is a community organization. We encourage people to have a broad selection of people on the board.

“They have to decide collectively, with each organization responsible for cooperating,” she said. “If they are at odds with each other, they’re hindering that possible success.”

 By David Adlerstein, Apalachicola Times, September 1, 2011