After nearly 10 years as Mount Airy’s Main Street Coordinator, Lizzie Morrison is leaving to take a state position.
Morrison’s departure was announced today by the Board of Directors of Mount Airy Downtown Inc. (MAD), which states that the board has accepted Morrison’s resignation from this organization.
“I will be at MAD until April,” the Main Street coordinator later added.
Morrison is taking a new job that will involve some of the same functions she performed locally, but on a regional basis.
“I am excited to accept the position of Economic Development Planner for the Piedmont Triad Region for the North Carolina Department of Commerce,” she explained. The Department of Commerce oversees the state’s Main Street Program, which seeks to improve downtown districts in communities including Mount Airy.
“I look forward to joining the great North Carolina Main Street and Rural Planning Center team to continue the invigorating work of helping rural economies grow,” Morrison advised.
The Mount Airy Downtown board of directors says it accepted Morrison’s resignation “with mixed feelings,” recognizing that she will have a broader role than just the local center.
“We are so proud of all that she has accomplished here,” read a joint statement issued by the board, which is chaired by Bryan Grote and also includes Jerry Coram Jr., Holli Nowlin, Greg Perkins, Gene Rees, Jessica Roberts, Andi Schnuck , Anna Kriska, Ted Ashby and Amy Slate among its membership.
“However, we are also very excited about her future with the North Carolina Department of Commerce-North Carolina Main Street and Rural Planning Center,” the board’s statement continued.
“She will have a larger platform through which to focus on rural economic development for the entire Piedmont Triad — our loss is, in a narrow sense, the region’s gain.”
Morrison, a 2005 graduate of Mount Airy High School who later earned a bachelor of arts degree from Auburn University, became Main Street coordinator on July 1, 2013, one of about 20 applicants for the position. She previously served as Director of Arts at Surry Arts Council, starting in March 2012.
The ultimate goal of the Main Street program, which Morrison spearheaded locally, is to expand economic and job opportunities.
Summarizing her work here, she lists as a notable achievement the remodeling of the former Spencer’s Inc. textile manufacturing facilities in the central business district, with which Mount Airy Downtown has played a key role.
Specifically, Morrison mentioned multi-phase plans now in the works for a Marriott Tribute boutique hotel and event space, and a new visitor and conference center following that on the Spencer site.
“At the completion of all three phases, the Spencer’s Mill redevelopment initiative will represent more than $60 million in downtown investment, with many more indirect investments to follow,” stated the outgoing coordinator.
“More importantly, it will represent authentic Mount Airy history and new job opportunities for the next generation,” according to Morrison. “The rocket has been launched for the largest economic development initiative in Surry County history.”
The coordinator expressed pride in having “been part of the team that got us here, and I can’t wait for my children to see the preservation of our shared building history in this project. They will know that their home has changed for the better and I hope it cultivates a love of place for them and their peers.”
Not always smooth
Some degree of controversy has surrounded the longtime coordinator’s tenure here. That included being part of a movement to declare an area near West Pine and North South streets blighted and use it as a springboard to develop a “gateway” to the city there, despite the presence of existing businesses.
This became a central issue for the 2015 municipal election, where candidates supporting this proposal were defeated and prompted city officials to disband a key group involved, the Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission.
Last fall, another controversy surfaced over a downtown master plan backed by Morrison and approved by a 3-2 vote by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.
Many citizens – and merchants in the central business district – opposed the plan, including holding a protest march on October 9.
Opponents have seen the plan’s recommendations for new flex spaces that accommodate outdoor dining and additional elements — along with landscaping and other cosmetic changes, including tree plantings — as undermining what is already a charming and thriving downtown.
Morrison acknowledged such sentiments in comments she issued Tuesday regarding the resignation and her belief that downtown has improved over the past decade.
“Some of you may disagree that it changed Mount Airy for the better — that’s OK,” she said. “You care about this community, and I encourage you to channel that concern into good deeds, community action, and openness. There is room for everyone at the table, just as there is room for the next generation.”
Morrison believes she “gave it all. Blood, sweat, tears and paint. Leading this team has made me better, older, wiser.”
The MAD board applauded Morrison’s tenure.
“We’ve had a fantastic 10-year run with Lizzie at the helm since July 2013,” its statement about her resignation said.
“Mount Airy has become a much livelier and stronger place since then, and we are confident of continuing the great work and positive vision for our downtown,” it noted, while also referencing the fear of new ideas.
“Change is not only inevitable, it can also be an opportunity for renewed commitment. As Lizzie consistently reminds us all, downtown is the economic engine of Mount Airy and a favorite neighborhood for many residents and visitors alike.”
The board says those efforts will continue and an application is now being accepted for Morrison’s successor. “The future is bright, not least thanks to Lizzie, and there is much work ahead,” notes its statement.
“To conclude, we would like to say a heartfelt thank you to our dear colleague and friend – and a big bravo. Well done.”
Morrison also mentioned the new person who will take over in his departing comments.
“As we turn, please remember that whoever is in this position next time is a human being. They have their own life challenges, experiences and family to protect. The enemy of economic growth is apathy, not someone with a different opinion than ours . Communities thrive when we work together.”