We’ve written before about how important the downtown business districts in our mountain towns are to their communities, but it needs to be said again in light of the debate now going on in Sylva. Town leaders in the Jackson County town will be making a big mistake if they pull the plug on support for the Downtown Sylva Association.
At this time town leaders are debating what level of funding to give to the downtown booster organization in the coming year’s budget. We would encourage those elected officials to provide as much as they can, and to begin looking for additional ways to support downtown Sylva.
The primary complaint by those opposed to the funding is that DSA is too downtown-centric. In other words, a majority of the town commissioners say giving money to the organization is unfair to other parts of town that don’t benefit from its work.
We think that argument leaves out too many of the proven reasons why a vibrant downtown is a rising tide that lifts all ships. Other merchants throughout Sylva benefit when the downtown is alive and full rather than empty with storefronts boarded up.
If someone is thinking about opening a new business anywhere in Sylva, it’s obvious a thriving downtown would provide a strong signal that the town has a healthy business environment. When the hospital, the university, the community college, the school system and private businesses are recruiting single professionals or families, downtown Sylva surely helps. Throughout the mountains, Sylva is known now as a place where those who keep our Appalachian musical, craft, and literary traditions alive will find patrons, whether that’s at a reading at City Lights or a concert at Bridge Park.
These are important, tangible reasons for keeping downtown Sylva healthy. There’s also the tax benefit to Sylva and Jackson County of a healthy downtown. And we won’t even go into the festivals and special events that bring real dollars to Sylva and Jackson County, helping everyone from grocery store clerks to gas station employees.
Look, asking town leaders to support downtown Sylva is not a revolutionary idea. From Charlotte to New Bern to Waynesville and Franklin, civic and elected leaders have realized the benefit of supporting their Main Streets. Drive downtown anywhere and you take the pulse of a community. Sylva’s pulse is strong, and that’s why about 20 people showed up at a meeting two weeks ago to encourage town leaders to support DSA. We can only hope they were listening.