Sharon Jablonski recognized for 25 years of service to city
by Tammie Gercken Staff Writer The News Herald
After 25 years and numerous awards won, Main Street Morganton Director Sharon Jablonski is still hard at work.
The Morganton City Council honored Jablonski at its meeting Jan. 4 by recognizing this milestone and giving her a commemorative pin.
Burke County native Jablonski started working as the Main Street Director in 1987, but left soon after when her husband got a job in Raleigh. While there, she served as the promotions coordinator for the Raleigh Downtown Development Corporation.
The Jablonski family returned to Morganton in 1991, and Jablonski resumed her position as Main Street Director that January. She cites former Morganton Mayor Mel Cohen as a major influence in wanting to work with the city. She referred to him as the “foremost cheerleader” for the downtown area, recalling how he used to personally hand out posters for the Historic Morganton Festival and the circus.
Jablonski said she put the experience and contacts she developed in Raleigh to good use for Morganton upon her return.
“I learned that we needed to be aggressive and stop being reactive, and that was a real turning point,” Jablonski said. “(In the past) we were always reacting to things instead of setting out a plan and deciding our own destiny.”
In 1997, the Main Street Department developed what they called a “Master Plan” for Morganton.
In a recent interview with Main Street America, Jablonski said they have accomplished over 80 percent of that plan, including “increasing the downtown living area from five to 296 residential units; relocating City Hall in a renovated mill; attracting a developer to build and operate a seven-screen-multiplex theater in the heart of downtown; going from three food establishments to 15 restaurants, three of which are fine dining; creating a vibrant farmers’ market; and installing wayfinding signs.”
“We didn’t just create a plan and put it on the shelf,” Jablonski said.
Jablonski emphasized that the Morganton Main Street program is known throughout the state for having “the complete support of mayor, council and city staff.”
She thanked the many residents of Morganton who have labored alongside city officials over the years to develop the downtown area.
“We had a great team of people who really stepped up and worked with us to help make the changes and give direction,” Jablonski said. “I feel like everything I do is a team effort.”
More than anything in her career, Jablonski said the Master Plan is the project she is most proud of having had a part in. She estimates that the Main Street Department attracted nearly $30 million in private investments in the downtown area during the plan’s implementation.
Jablonski also expressed appreciation for Lee Anderson, director of design and development for the city, for his invaluable input in making Morganton what it is today. He helped her create the Redevelopment Commission that recently transformed the east side of the city, significantly raising property values and attracting new investment opportunities.
“We represent the property owners and merchants within a 36-block area, and what happens in this area has a tremendous impact on the whole city and the county,” Jablonski said of the Main Street program. “Our job every day is to work for economic development, and that’s what we do here.”
Anderson also helped Jablonski apply for and win a grant to develop tourism in Burke County.
Jablonski feels like downtown Morganton is more “energetic” today and more attractive to younger residents, especially Millennials. She said she has enjoyed seeing a lot of Millennials investing and starting businesses downtown.
“I am a huge proponent of trying to support them and get them on their feet and let them run with new business concepts,” she said.
Jablonski is in the process of envisioning a new plan for downtown Morganton. She said she hopes to get a hotel built in the downtown area, as well as residential developments that are attractive to younger people.
“We are a retirement community,” Jablonski said, “but we’re not only a retirement community. We need retirees for stability; however, we do have young people that are staying, and they do want to be in Morganton and raise their families here. They’re enjoying this renaissance.”
She said she also wants to continue to stabilize vacant downtown properties with “solid” businesses and see the Community House renovations completed.
Jablonski has no plans to retire soon or seek another position.
“There’s one thing I know for certain: I don’t want to do this job anywhere else,” she said. “You have to have a heart for this job, and my heart is in this community.”