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Originally published: 2013-03-23 18:10:28
Last modified: 2013-03-23 18:10:28

Blowing Rock's downtown among 'Great Main Streets'

by Jeff Eason

Each year, tens of thousands of tourists visit Blowing Rock. And whether they are here for the horse show, to drive along the Parkway, or take a hike in the woods, they all seem to spend some time downtown on Main Street.

This unique aspect of the village was honored last week when Blowing Rock's Main Street was named one of five "Great Main Streets" of North Carolina by the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association.

The award was part of this year's Great Places in North Carolina Awards.

"This is the second year that we have celebrated great places throughout the state with these awards," said Kate Pearce, co-chairwoman of the Great Places Initiative.

"It's modeled after the American Planning Association's national program. This year we added a "Great Neighborhoods for Kids" award and we will probably add another new award next year. It's a way of celebrating great places in the state and exposing the role of city planning, whether it be an organic process or professional planning," she said.

In recognizing Blowing Rock's Main Street, the judges said, "Main Street is the hearty of this picturesque town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The street is an energetic place with a mix of unique shops, galleries, independent restaurants, and the lovingly-maintained Memorial Park. While Blowing Rock is a tourist destination, locals feel a sense of community, thanks to Main Street."

"I was surprised by the award," said Blowing Rock Town Planner Kevin Rothrock. "But then we got word in February that we were a finalist."

Rothrock said the original application for the award was filed by the Town and the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority. Blowing Rock's Main Street was one of five winners selected from 20 finalists.

The other four downtown areas to receive recognition as a 2013 "Great Main Street" were Raleigh's Fayetteville Street, Davidson's Main Street, Fayetteville's Hay Street and Elkin's Main Street.

The Great Places in North Carolina also included People's Choice Awards in two categories. The People's Choice for "Great Main Street" was Concord's Union Street and the People's Choice for "Great Neighborhood for Kids" was Clayton's Riverwood neighborhood.

The People's Choice Awards were based on 2,216 online votes in the two categories.

"We love getting citizens involved in nominating and voting for their 'People's Choice,'" Pearce said.
"We know that people are an integral element in what makes a great main street or a great neighborhood for kids."

The expert panel that selected these places named as "Great Main Streets" included: George Chapman, former planning director, City of Raleigh; Ed Johnson, Safe Routes to School coordinator, NCDOT Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation; Ben Hitchings, planning director for the town of Morrisville and APA-NC president; Elizabeth Hudson, editor, Our State magazine; Rodger Lentz, planning director for the City of Wilson and member of the board of directors of the American Planning Association; David W. Owens, Gladys Hall Coates professor of public law and government, UNC School of Government; Beth Poovey, registered landscape architect, LandDesign; and Mary Joan Pugh, chief of staff, North Carolina Zoo.

"All of these 'Great Main Streets' are vibrant town centers that help build community," said Ben Hitchings, president of APA-NC. "Through this program, we celebrate some of the great places in our state and the local partnerships that have made these streets a focal point for community life."

"As planners, we know the importance of public-private partnerships in ensuring great communities," said Emily Beddingfield, co-chairwoman of the initiative. "We want to recognize the great places in our beautiful state and the teams of people who worked together to create places that people love and cherish."

"Part of our goal is to get people in North Carolina thinking about what makes a great place," Pearce said. "It's not just the shops and where you buy your coffee. It's the volunteers who work on town beautification days and the city planners who try to make it work as a cohesive whole."

A ceremony will be held in each community this spring to recognize local planning efforts. All of the communities will be featured on http://www.greatplacesnc.org.