Polar Express success

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 8, 2016

Foundation for Polar Express success long laid

By Rita Howell

Batesville became the envy of towns up and down the Grenada Rail Line when Iowa Pacific CEO Ed Ellis chose our town to base his Polar Express Train Ride. He said early on that it was the look of the town, with the railroad tracks running through the Downtown Square, that drew his attention and helped him decide last summer to bring his franchise here.
It wasn’t just luck that the appearance of Downtown Batesville, even before the recent sprucing up, projected a vibrant and charming image.
Promoting the significance of the city’s center, and working to revitalize and improve it, has been the mission of the Batesville Main Street Program since it was founded in 1999. Colleen Clark has served as Main Street Manager since then.
The Downtown Memorial Park, the murals painted on the sides of two historic buildings, and the listing of the Downtown area on the National Register of Historic Places — all of these were projects of Batesville Main Street.
In addition, there’s a Main Street design committee that makes recommendations to property owners and plans for the overall concepts of color and design for the Square.
And that’s not to mention the events and activities sponsored year-round by Main Street, from the farmers market to SpringFest to the Holiday Open House weekend, all bringing folks not just Downtown but through all commercial areas of the city.
The Main Street program exists under the umbrella of the Panola Partnership.
Nine volunteers make up the Main Street executive board, including Joe Azar, Glenda Bailey, Ryan Revere, Chris Smith, Yvonne Taylor, Mary Troxler, Peggy Walker, Stephen Whatley and Sue Womble.
When the unexpected announcement was made that the Polar Express was coming to Batesville, Clark and her volunteers, led by Main Street Design Committee chairman Angela Clanton, sprang into action to create a proper holiday setting at the entrance to the Square. The city provided some funds and Main Street solicited donations from groups and individuals to purchase and install the horse and sleigh display at the “pocket park” across from the Eureka, and the golden reindeer that provided the backdrop for so many family portraits in the bandstand pavilion during the holidays.
Leading up to the Polar Express dates, Main Street held meetings with Downtown merchants to keep them informed about what to expect.
As Polar Express company officials moved in and began hiring and organizing for the six-week run, they called on Main Street for help.
“There were a lot of step and fetch duties,” Clark said. “We provided support service, which we were glad to do.”
With the city’s sidewalk renovations, new decorative streetlights, facade refreshments at eight Downtown businesses, Christmas decorations installed, and a vintage locomotive sitting on the tracks, Batesville looked like the setting for a Hallmark movie.
In the end, the town received rave reviews and Iowa Pacific sold 56,000 tickets for the North Pole trip.
“It was a great accomplishment for our community,” Clark said. “Everybody worked together.”
But it was because of the work that has gone on for the past 16 years, we believe, that Ed Ellis liked what he saw in the first place.

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