Karen Ott Mayer 8-7-12

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Groups with common interests, energy propel Como forward

Here’s a riddle for today.  What happens when you combine public funds (Appalachian Community Learning Project), a motivated private building owner, and community groups (Como Main Street Alliance and Como Arts Council) with one common vision?  An unstoppable storm that propels towns forward.

In May, Como was awarded $3,000 in seed money from the ACLP to complete a fast-moving project within a six-month period of time.   Working in conjunction with The Rensselaerville Institute in Washington, D.C.  (gotta love the tagline, “The Think Tank with Muddy Boots”), the ACLP focuses on projects that can do one thing:  Produce results.

For their part, selected towns create a plan to reach specific targets that must be reached.  A fun, progressive group, The Rensselaerville  folks are politely pushy, holding regular conference calls, acting as cheerleaders and helping towns when big, bad barriers appear.

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In Como, the ACLP group and the CMSA have focused on reclaiming the original city municipal building that housed the jail, the fire department and city hall.  

Partnering with the city, these groups have thoughtfully approached how to stabilize the building and plans are moving forward–albeit slowly in relationship to our originally-stated goals.  
As steps are being made for that building, however, we’ve recently switched tracks in order to move our plans along and meet our targets.  And the result is utterly cool!

While CMSA has been working, the Como Arts Council has been searching for a permanent home. With the recent sale of the building at 223 Main, the local owner expressed interest in supporting the CAC while also investigating his own revenue options.  The result?

A perfect storm of mixed use agreements.  Through several agreements, 223 Main is now the future home of the Main Street Gallery, which will also be Como’s newest event venue for parties, weddings, and any other celebrations.    

Why is any of this worth mentioning?  One word…money.  While traditional views hold that a building must rent for a specific amount by one party whose only interest is the bottom line, a new set of thinkers are at hand.  

What if multiple interests, backed by multiple bank accounts, combine efforts for altruistic ideals such as community value and community good?  In short, everyone is investing on the front end with hopes of long-term gain…not a short-term dollar gain.

To cut through the chase, here’s how this one looks:  CAC is providing artistic direction on the renovation of the building itself and $$$ for the renovation, the ACLP group is providing $$$ for a new Main Street sign on the building itself,  the building owner is pitching in his $$$ to help renovate as well.  

And the Como Main Street Alliance?  This group will be the long-term supporting vehicle for this new Main Street venture as well as all the local businesses.

This past week while talking to Roger Stolle of Cat Head in Clarksdale, his wise words reminded me the reasons why groups like The Rensselaerville Institute care enough to put ACLP funds into small town hands.  Ten years ago, Clarksdale faced white flight and decaying infrastructure.  Private business owners banded together to hire evening security patrols.  Few people even believed in Clarksdale.  

When Stolle bought his building and began promoting the town and the blues, locals laughed.  But Stolle persisted and learned one key thing.  

“It only takes a few people.  There were 10 of us at most.”  

Today, Clarksdale attracts a large international base of blues tourists and this year’s Sunflower Festival headlines Robert Plant.

More importantly, a small group of minds refused to give up or let anyone steal their vision even when it was still invisible.

In today’s world of bad news and worse economies, so many reasons exist to stop us in our tracks.  At every turn, our city hall project has problems and detractors.  

“It’s too much work.  It’s too old.  We don’t have enough money.  It’s too hot.  We don’t have enough volunteers.”

I’ve heard it all, and quite frankly, those words represent a dead-end road.

On August 17, the Como Arts Council summer show kicks off at the new Main Street Gallery.  Take a look at the new white walls painted by David, David and Bob.  Take a good look at the new metal sign hanging out front paid for by ACLP funds because it matches one of our targets of supporting a new business venture, and look at all the local talent hanging on the walls.  

And if you’re having problems finding any of us, look for us in the middle of the perfect storm.  It may be rough out here, but we’re all having fun.