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City Lights owner to lead Sylva’s Main Street program

Bernadette Peters Bernadette Peters

Bernadette Peters, owner of City Lights Café, has been hired to lead economic development efforts in downtown Sylva. 

The town announced on July 1 that Peters had been selected for the part-time position of Main Street economic development director from a field of six applicants. Town Manager Paige Dowling made the final decision after a hiring process that featured an interview panel composed of the Main Street Sylva Association President, a downtown business and property owner, and Dowling. 

Peters will receive an annual salary of $25,000 from the town’s general fund and work 20 hours per week. 

In addition to owning a downtown business for the past decade, Peters has also served at various times as MSSA president, chair of the MSSA Economic Restructuring Committee and attendee at two statewide Main Street conferences. Before owning City Lights, she worked in marketing for 12 years.

“We are very excited to welcome Bernadette as our new MSSA director,” said Dowling. 

Peters began her new job on July 5. According to the posted job description, she’ll be responsible for promoting business, marketing and economic development in downtown and the surrounding areas and will also coordinate several annual events held throughout the year, including the Sylva Christmas Parade.

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As director, she’ll also be responsible for administering the Main Street Program, which involves a significant amount of recordkeeping, data management, budget development and other tasks. Peters will manage the downtown revitalization program and will be the public face of the Main Street program, both in the press and before local, state and national leaders. She’s also tasked with finding, applying for and administering grant opportunities to benefit the town and with serving as a liaison between the town manager, town board and MSSA board. 

Dowling has served as the town’s Main Street Program coordinator since September 2011, and when she was hired as town manager in 2012, she retained her Main Street duties. However, the board has for years discussed the need to hire a separate person to manage the Main Street Program as both that program and the town’s needs have grown. 

“Everything has increased through the years,” Mayor Lynda Sossamon said during a 2019 budget work session. “I’m glad we’re doing all this stuff for the town, but I don’t think she (Dowling) can really keep up with all her work.”

The 2020-21 budget included funding for the town to contract with a firm to serve as Main Street Program Director, and the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce had been performing those services since July 1, 2020, under a $20,000 contract effective through June 30. During an Aug. 13, 2020, meeting town commissioners voiced concern over how the hiring process was conducted, saying that the MSSA should have been consulted during the process. Peters’ hire came following a search and selection process similar to the one commissioners said they wanted during that discussion. 

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