By Jodi Marze, Lifestyles Editor
The Picayune Item
The Miss. State University community assessment and improvement group visited Picayune in June of 2012 and conducted their “First Impressions” study. Based on their assessment, team member Jeremy Murdock, presented their findings to community members on Thursday, in Council Chambers at City Hall.
The team is comprised of experts from various fields such as architectural landscaping and economic development. It is basically a “secret shopper” program for cities which provides “visitors” with a snapshot of the community.
Before revealing the assessment, Murdock told the group, “If (communities) want others to invest in (them), (they) must invest in the community.
“The group that visits gets to see a snapshot of the community and that is all someone coming through town will get. Picayune is well positioned adjacent to Interstate 59 and is highly visible to thousands of visitors each day. It is also the first Miss. community that visitors experience after leaving La. So, Interstate 59 is not only the front door of Picayune, but is also the front door to Miss.,” said Murdock.
The “Lasting Impressions” portion of the report reads: “The visitors’ emotional responses to Picayune were generally very positive. Visitors found the city to be very friendly, interesting, and inviting, with a small town atmosphere. Visitors were generally surprised by the size and quality of the downtown area and the growth of the local hospital. On the negative side, visitors mentioned the commercial areas along Highway 11, Highway 43, and Memorial Boulevard pose a significant challenge for the community.”
In essence, without an inviting environment along commercial corridors, which thousands pass daily, the community is dis servicing itself by losing potential tourism dollars and economic growth.
“New people coming through are usually on their way to somewhere else,” said Murdock. “Getting them to shop is obviously a challenge. While Picayune is very visible from the Interstate, there are a few run down buildings in the line of sight as well.”
The presentation showed a quote from Knox Ross, which read, “Your community can’t look like it is going out of business.”
Murdock encouraged more regulation of both temporary and permanent signs. In some areas businesses shown had over ten signs posted which was visually overwhelming. In a setting where many businesses are close together and have many signs, it is counter-productive.
“This program and report is most valuable to the city, government and our businesses. The problem with sign clutter and how bad it looks is an eye opener for businesses. These suggestions can lead to improvements which will bring in more businesses and lead to further economic development,” said Buddy McDonald.
Former longtime Picayune Main Street manager and community advocate Reba Beebe, said, “I have been anxious to have the First Impression team to assess Picayune for five years, and am very pleased with their final assessment.
“Some of their suggestions would greatly benefit our community, with participation of both property owners and city employees. Their Goodyear Boulevard suggestions concerning parking and walking track would benefit pedestrians for safety issues. The team also pointed out issues with temporary signs not being removed in a timely manner throughout Picayune, which is very common in a lot of communities.
“Overall, I was very pleased with the team’s findings.”
While community challenges were addressed, the city was also praised for its attempt to honor historic architecture in new construction, civic pride, for core location of its schools and numerous parks scattered throughout the community.
It was also stated that the Amtrak station and Intermodal Transportation and Tourism Center was an asset. The grounds maintenance was acknowledged as well as the inviting downtown atmosphere and pleasing mixture of businesses.
But at the same time, the group pointed out the difficulty for pedestrians to safely walk from one side of Canal Street to the other. This was cited as something that needs attention, along with sidewalk modification to make them handicapped accessible.
The top positive observations from the team were: Crosby Arboretum and Stennis Space Center; downtown area; Friendship Park; Highland Community Hospital; core location of schools and having an Amtrak Station.
Local businessman and developer Bill Edwards, said, “They had some outstanding ideas especially in downtown. Each business owner, as the group stated, has to take pride in their area. If we take their suggestions we can make our downtown really special.”
“The presentation reminds us we must remember the impressions of others do have a direct impact on furthering economic development efforts in our city. New business and industry will avoid a community not seen in a favorable light. We, as a community of elected officials and business
people, must become engaged in improving our reputation,” said Councilman Wayne Gouget.