LINCOLNTON – The Lincolnton Steering Committee has been working with the North Carolina Main Street program to hone in on economic goals for Lincoln County, with a specific focus on the downtown Lincolnton area.

Committee President Fred Jarrett said the overall goal is to “make sure all organizations trying to improve downtown Lincolnton work together.”  

Last July the Lincolnton Steering Committee came up with two main areas of focus: economic drivers and downtown merchants. And in an earlier conversation with the Denver Citizen, Brett Hicks, the city’s zoning administrator, said the group identified the Carolina Thread Trail and the South Fork River as two potential economic drivers. He also said downtown merchants include businesses as well as art and cultural centers.

Jarrett said prior to the committee’s establishment, and before the group identified these areas of focus, the revitalization of downtown Lincolnton was “a bit of an uncoordinated effort.”

Though a detailed overarching plan for the downtown area hasn’t been finalized, Jarrett said residents can expect to see a draft in the next month or so. But now, with a clearer vision in mind, stakeholders are putting their ideas, and funds, together to help bring more business and foot traffic back to downtown.

Jarrett said the Lincolnton downtown area was once filled with boutiques, restaurants and shops, but once “big box stores opened up, it become hard for these smaller shops to survive.” He also said Belk moving to a new location 20 years ago gave people less of a reason to visit, and “traffic just wasn't downtown anymore.”

Some shops have since popped back up, but to bring more business to the area, the Lincolnton Steering Committee started working with the City of Lincolnton in 2016 to provide business incentive grants for entrepreneurs interested in revitalizing a facility downtown. Jarrett said the grants are around $15,000, and the committee helps decide whether they should be approved.

Just fewer than a dozen were approved in 2017, and Jarrett said people should start seeing some new, or newly renovated businesses, pop up soon. From a wood-fired pizza place to April and Pete DeGregory’s soon-to-be eatery, Tavern on the Square, Jarrett hopes there will be more places for people to spend time downtown in 2018.

Jarrett said the committee also served as a liaison between the City of Lincolnton and the Arts Council of Lincoln County to pull together funding for murals on a few downtown buildings, like the old Belk store near Court Square. He said putting together smaller pools of money for bigger community projects is a huge part of what the committee does and plans to do in 2018.

“I’m a lifelong (Lincoln County) resident,” Jarrett said. “I remember when there was a grocery store, movie theaters, a hardware store, Belk ... It was a neat place to grow up in, and I think it's getting back to that.”

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