Group meets about downtown Belk building

A third community meeting was held Friday, which focused on beginning a plan for the old Belk building in downtown Harlan. The 80-year-old, 30,000 square foot building, which has been gifted to a coalition formed by the Harlan County Community Foundation, COAP Inc., and the Appalachian Program at Southeast Community and Technical College, coupled with a $600,000 ARC grant awarded to SKCTC Appalachian Program is expected to be the key to manifesting an alternative plan to help the county’s economy by focusing on the area vendors’ and entrepreneurs’ talents, abilities, and cultural experience designed to bring in tourists.

The building, located in downtown Harlan at 118 East Central Street, is in need of renovations and repairs, which are expected to take several months, will provide space for vendors and crafts people to display and sell their works and creations without the overhead costs of private space. The idea, termed a “business incubator” is designed to help local crafts people, artists, and entrepreneurs generate revenue towards opening their own facility as well as providing a means of drawing tourists to the county to enjoy the rich Appalachian Heritage showcased through local works, art, music, and foods.

Project Manager Robert Gipe, of SKCTC, said while the building’s renovations would take some time, they would remain focused on making use of spaces available near and around the building for vendors to begin setting up to showcase their works and creations through what is termed “pop-up” vendors’ tables and tents. While no specific area of space has been decided on nor made available as of yet, Gipe said there are several places of interest that would provide adequate space for vendors and merchants, noting that the most important issue at hand in Friday’s meeting was choosing an amenity.

As described by Ashley Bledsoe, owner of Taco Holler, an amenity in this case would be the thing or idea that holds the most strength in pulling in tourists and customers.

“Say your town has wonderful food then you showcase that. If you’ve got a great music scene (showcase that),” said Bledsoe. “It’s things that we leave our home/place to go experience elsewhere.”

Gipe said the things of strength need to be focused upon and then the community can learn from it and grow from it, noting that there is no room for fear of failure because “even in failure people always learn more than from success.”

“This is what we distilled out of our last meeting, we have food, art, song as you have never experienced before,” said Gipe. “Poverty is not our story. We have a different story that we want to tell. We are disconnected, independent, and proud of it.”

Friday’s meeting prompted a continuation of several groups branching out within the room to expand and discuss the ideas of food and alcohol, music, art, programming and onsite prep, with the program spokesperson Greg Hollins stating that his group had met recently in a non-formal setting to discuss ideas implemented at the last public meeting held in late October.

Hollins said the programming group has appointed a time and date to set up with a camp fire outside at the Harlan Gazebo located beside the courthouse on Nove. 17, in an effort of drawing in people who wish to become interested and become more involved with the overall plan of the Downtown Belk Building Project.

A pizza and music party was held following Friday’s meeting which featured local talents Brooklyn Collins opening for the Kudzu Killers.