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Announcing the 2020 Mary Means Leadership Award Recipient

October 30, 2020 | Announcing the 2020 Mary Means Leadership Award Recipient |
Sharon Jablonski, Director of Morganton Main Street. Credit: Ethan Smith.(left) and Michael Berley (center and right)

Sharon Jablonski, the Director of Morganton Main Street in Morganton, North Carolina, is the inaugural recipient of the Mary Means Leadership Award. Selected by a national jury, Sharon is being recognized for her innovative approach to downtown revitalization, which transformed Morganton into a thriving entertainment district, with a lively arts scene and strong local economy. 
“A Main Street program’s success depends on the commitment and vision of local Main Street directors,” said the National Main Street Center’s President and CEO Patrice Frey. “The transformation Sharon has led in Morganton has been remarkable, and her longstanding commitment to fostering community engagement, developing partnerships, and spearheading innovative development downtown is a model for strong Main Street leadership.” 
The National Main Street Center introduced the Mary Means Leadership Award this year, named in recognition of the founder of the National Main Street program. Nominees were judged on the extent to which they: build local capacity; lead through strategy; exhibit innovation and ingenuity; bring together diverse stakeholders through shared vision; demonstrate commitment to continuous learning; and advance a preservation ethic in their work.

Director of the North Carolina Main Street Program & Rural Planning Center, Liz Parham, nominated Sharon for the award. Hear from Liz about why she nominated Sharon below:

In her 30-year tenure as Director of Morganton Main Street, Sharon’s forward-thinking approach has turned downtown into a thriving entertainment district, featuring a seven-screen multiplex theater built on a parking lot, the redevelopment of historic buildings into restaurants and breweries, and a new 85-room hotel built in a formerly vacant lot. The downtown Morganton district has also been developed to serve as an arts incubator, featuring a community kitchen to support restaurants and breweries, a community kiln to support the potters, a visual arts gallery and a performing arts venue, and public art. This is all as a direct result of Sharon's vision and leadership to make downtown a creative space for visitors.
Sharon has brought new residents to downtown by working with developers to build new residential units that have resulted in 260 new units with nearly 400 individuals now calling downtown home. Sharon has made historic preservation a high priority in her revitalization efforts, working closely with the State Historic Preservation Office to promote and encourage the use of historic tax credits. She has written and received more than $1 million in state and federal grants that she has used to renovate key properties and generate a revolving loan program for business development. 
“Sharon Jablonski is a thought leader who is never satisfied with the status quo,” said Liz Parham, Director of the North Carolina Main Street Program & Rural Planning Center, who nominated Sharon for the award. “She constantly and consistently reaches for the next transformational strategy and the next project that will take Morganton and the Main Street program to the next level. It is directly because of her leadership that we consider Morganton to be one of the best examples of the Main Street program in North Carolina.”