LUCEDALE, Miss. (WKRG) — A team of economic development consultants came to Lucedale this week to give feedback on the look and feel of the city.

The First Impressions program by the Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development (SIG) is designed to help community leaders see their city through the lens of a visitor. 

The city signed up for the program earlier this year. The team from SIG visited Lucedale over a few unannounced days last month, documenting their impressions from their stay. The presentation laid out their observations and shared best practices and advice for any improvement.

For digital presence, the Mississippi State staff commended the city’s website for being well-updated and having an active presence on social media along with the county chamber of commerce and city downtown merchants association.

The team noted that having six main entrances to town is unique and likely a challenge to upkeep. They suggested updating welcome signs with repairs and cleaning. Planted trees and well-maintained areas around the signs were complimented.

Pictures were included in the presentation of telephone poles at various intersections throughout the city with a cluster of temporary signage advertising businesses, events, and yard sales.

“I would encourage the community to look at some ordinances in trying to kind of keep a lid on that,” said SIG project director Chance McDavid. “That’s the one thing that can get away from a community really, really quickly. They begin to compete for that visual space and there are literally some tacked on top of others.”

Strengths noted through downtown included the variety of restaurants, especially options with outdoor seating, available parking, new benches, awnings that provided shade and well-maintained landscaping and greenery.

Presenters also praised the downtown information kiosk and public restrooms as being a strength and draw to the community. The proximity of city and county government buildings also earned positive remarks.

“It was just a good experience on Main Street. You’re doing it right…A lot of things that we saw were very positive and look like it had been very intentional in this community over time. So it appeared too that a lot of the private property owners have invested in this community,” McDavid said.

The team suggested the few vacant lots and storefronts at the east edge of downtown could be marketed to prioritize new development with infrastructure that already exists, instead of extending the commercial districts of the city with new construction.

Alleyways and “pocket parks,” like Kate Havard Park, in downtown were also brought to the table as opportunities for improvement. Spaces between buildings and business lawns not being used could be transformed with activities and sitting areas for visitors to use during events like Second Saturday or while they wait for a table or meals at a restaurant.

“A lot of times, towns can actually come in and really enhance these areas- put in murals, put in outdoor games, put in some string lights. Lots of ways to create kind of a vibrant visiting space and outdoor recreation space,” McDavid said.

The team also liked the availability of medical providers, informational announcements on the back of stop signs, and litter-free encouragements.

Other suggestions were to add and update crosswalks, especially in downtown, and to keep watch and possibly regulate commercial signage and building materials to stay visually appealing as the city grows. An example given was the monument-style sign and brick facade at Sonic.

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