The attractive colors and the awnings on downtown buildings from the renovations that swept around the Square in anticipation of the arrival of the Polar Express Train Ride late last year had been incubating in the mind’s eye of the owner of ILLUS Visual and Design Arts since this business moved to Batesville in 2008. Anyone wanting to view architectural & graphic designer Angela Clanton’s portfolio need not find her at her office. “It is an honor to have the opportunity to have a portfolio of built works on the Square,” Clanton said.
Clanton had founded her business in 1999 following her 1995 graduation from Mississippi State University with a Bachelors of Architecture. She came to Panola County with her marriage to Batesville native Barry Logue, owner of Edge Tool & Design, Inc., established here in 2002.
“The number one thing I wanted to do was join the Panola Partnership,” Clanton said. “Even though my business was not dependent on Batesville, as ILLUSvis has projects regionally, I did want my business to become anchored in its new hometown and become part of the community support team.” This decision has led to volunteer and business partnerships with both the Panola Partnership and Batesville Main Street Program, and the Partnership’s membership referral plan has led to working partnerships with local businesses such as the Cotton Warehouse Farmers Market & Classic Cars Showroom, and organizations such as North Delta Schools.
“I fell in love with downtown Batesville, it is your heart of the city” Clanton continued. “When I moved in 2008, approximately 50% of the downtown buildings were vacant and many were beginning to succumb to age. Often times when a city’s downtown is left unattended problems can occur in your community, but BMSP was already hard at work to ensure a healthy and thriving center to Batesville.”
Batesville Main Street Program (BMSP) had already established a Facade Grant Program offering its participants 50/50 reimbursement grants for up to $1,000 for facade renovation and up to $250 for Sign Mini-Grants, along with a Paint Program for discounted materials with supporting vendors. Clanton asked Colleen Clark, BMSP Manager, to become part of any work to better downtown. Her philosophy of downtown preservation was a perfect fit that became even closer as BMSP appointed a Downtown Design Committee chaired by Glenda Bailey.
The BMSP Downtown Design Committee considers each participant in the Façade Grant Program as a client. “My hope was that my capability to create a digital design on top of a photo of a façade to convey to business and building owners exactly what their building’s going to look like could promote good communication,” she said. “The committee wants to offer good design that is affordable. Attainable is the key word. If you go outside what a client is able or willing to do, goals cannot be accomplished.”
Committee members have worked to develop a vision for downtown improvements that have coincided and complemented the city’s $420,000 Transportation Enhancement Grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Simultaneously, the committee has strived to create an aesthetic for Downtown Batesville that is distinctly its own.
Clanton has helped facilitate these Downtown Batesville improvements by creating the architectural illustrations through ILLUSvis for Batesville Main Street primarily pro bono. “My parents said, ‘you build and maintain your own communities. If you want a nice community and you have talents, share your talents’” she recalled. In kind, Panola Partnership hires ILLUSvis to create promotional graphic materials for their Fall Forum, and Batesville Main Street Program hires ILLUSvis for promotional graphics for all downtown events.
“But, the true miracle of the success of the Façade Grant Program belongs to Batesville Main Street Program and Panola Partnership,” Clanton went on to say, “because even before this work together began, they had developed this program, made this commitment, and were able to bring together this number of people in this size community to say ‘yes, we will spend that money, and we believe in it,’” Clanton said.
The serendipity of coinciding events that was coalescing around the Square increased exponentially with last July’s announcement that Iowa Pacific Railroad would bring its Polar Express Train Ride here in November and December and to expect 35,000-plus visitors, which became 56,000 plus in its reality. “The Wilbourne Building was the Downtown Design Committee’s first architectural illustration submitted to the City of Batesville Planning Commission for approval in October, 2012, and by mid-November 2015, 15 facades had been renovated,” Clanton said, by the time the first Polar Express visitors were arriving.
Adding to the momentum, City leaders stimulated renovations on the Square when they facilitated a short-term low interest loan program from its revolving economic development fund along with city-wide improvements in time for Polar Express visitors. The funds released allowed merchants on the Square to turn Clanton’s illustrations for their buildings into reality.
“I am grateful for this opportunity to use my talents,” Clanton said. “The Downtown Design Committee is also hard at work with a public works project for the Downtown Gateway Pocket Park and has many other projects on the board. As I drove the town for errands recently, I noticed more renovations and new construction all around Batesville. It is an exciting time for our town, and I believe the best is yet to come.”