Fulton residents want more unified downtown area

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

What does downtown Fulton need to make it better?

More lighting? Better sidewalks? A stronger tie-in with the community college? According to a group of more than 30 Fulton residents and officials, the answer is “all of the above.”

Last week, Fulton officials hosted a special public meeting with the Mississippi State-based non-profit planning group, the Carl Small Town Center (CSTC), which previously helped in planning the downtown Playgarden Park, to help determine what, if any, improvements should be made to the downtown area. During the hour-long meeting, attendees voiced their opinions of what they loved and didn’t love about Fulton’s downtown.

The meeting started with a striking visual: A large panoramic view of Fulton’s downtown. The series of photographs stretched around the perimeter of the Fulton board room twice and provided a way for attendees to indicate areas of note.

According to CSTC Director John Poros, who headed the meeting, the panorama was important to assessing the downtown area as a whole.

“Although you’ve seen your downtown every day, I’m sure you’ve never seen it all as one piece and kind of understood what this part of your community looks like as a singular experience,” he said.

Among the suggestions made during the meeting was a call for increased lighting throughout the area, which most seemed to think would make downtown more inviting.

“I think we need to look at redoing the lighting all the way from Senter’s Drug Store down to the Tombigbee Waterway,” said Mayor Paul Walker, who added that foot traffic in the area might increase if downtown looked more inviting.

One of the major talking points of the meeting was the stretch at the intersection of Access Road and Main Street up to the Itawamba Community College campus. In addition to inadequate lighting and a lack of sidewalks, most seem to believe there is no unifying aesthetics within that area, the community college and the downtown area.

Chip Mills, head of local interest group the Fulton Development Volunteers, said that the walking track along the waterway, called the Tenn-Tom Trail, is a popular draw, but there is no easy way to reach the track from downtown Fulton. He said tying the walking track into the downtown area should be a priority.

“Maybe it doesn’t feel like part of downtown right now, but perhaps it could,” Mills said.

Mills expressed a dissatisfaction with the transition from the downtown area into the ICC campus.

“Visually, it’s disjointed; there’s no connection between the two,” he said. “You don’t feel drawn to come downtown if you’re a community college student.”

Additionally, he expressed an interest in tying the downtown area to the Jamie Whitten Center, possibly by utilizing the walking track.

“Those two dots could be connected,” Mills said.

Talks of unifying the downtown area, ICC campus and the walking track began last year when the city began planning the creation of a boulevard along Main Street between the walking track and community college. Planned features included sidewalks, lighting and an eight-foot greenery area running down the middle of Main Street.

During the meeting, Walker expressed his interest in continuing work on the boulevard, which he claimed would help tie everything together and make the area much more inviting to foot traffic.

“I think that would give us a great new look for that whole area,” Walker said.

Alderman Hayward Wilson offered a completely new suggestion: Add lighting and sidewalks for Hill Street, which runs from the college into the downtown area and sees a lot of foot traffic, but has no formal walkways.

Wilson said when he was growing up, he used to walk down that road daily.

“It never was lit properly,” Wilson said. “If you look at it today, it really needs a nice sidewalk … A lot of students come up that way; they need a well-lit area.”

In the end, Poros thanked the crowd for their participation and said the suggestions would influence the group’s designs for the area as they move forward.

“We want to gain as much community participation in this as we can before we start to draw something or go down the wrong path,” Poros said.

adam.armour@journalinc.com