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Merchants explore revitalizing downtown

POSTED: December 11, 2007 7:19 a.m.
With a plan and a vision on how to revitalize the historic downtown business district, the new Hinesville Downtown Development Authority director, Vicki Davis, met with local merchants at Over Coffee on Tuesday morning.
It was the first meeting of the downtown merchants’ group. Its purpose was to allow the merchants to meet one another and discuss ways to help bring new business to the downtown area.
Davis, who was hired a month ago, said she felt it was important to bring the downtown merchants together to discuss plans and programs to revitalize the area.
“We also wanted to give them a chance to meet each other because when you run a business sometimes you are so caught up in your work you don’t get a chance to mingle with other local business owners,” she said. “We also discussed things that are pertinent to the businesses and the challenges they may have.”
Davis said one of the things she realized was the need to bring the group together to discuss goals and desires for the downtown area.
“We need the community to realize where downtown Hinesville is,” she said. “When you say downtown, for some it could be any place in Hinesville and we want to shift that focus so when you say downtown Hinesville you think specifically of the historic downtown area. We want to uncover the opportunities of bringing in new businesses and have some new property developments here.”

Maintain small-town feel
Davis noted the importance of maintaining the current look and small-town atmosphere that exists in downtown.
“I think people really like the charm of a small town but they do want certain amenities available to them,” Davis said. “We want to find that balance. Every building we bring in, whether refurbishing an existing building or building a new one, we are definitely looking at the property design to making sure it is compatible to the existing surroundings.”

Attract retail stores
Davis is hoping to attract more retail stores into downtown Hinesville. She said retail would be a key industry to add to an area where the service industries from the courts and offices are already thriving.
“We need to see what the products are that are not currently available to our local customers. Those are the products that people will continue to go out to other areas to shop for so we want to identify those things that people want to have and then we can try to recruit those businesses here. We hope to also add some more entertainment and leisure activities to the area,” Davis said.

Facade grant
She told the group the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority does have a facade grant that can match half of the project cost, up to $2,500.
The grant is specifically for businesses that are looking to make improvements on the facade of their business, such as awnings, siding and signage.
The DDA is also working with the state and other agencies on very low interest loans that can be used for business growth, expansions, renovations and other business endeavors, up to $2 million.

Business surveys
“Another exciting endeavor is the partnership of Fort Stewart with The National Trust for Historic Preservation with our Army Community Heritage Program,” Davis said. “We will be conducting business surveys that allow us to form a good-base line data that we can analyze with what might be missing downtown. We will survey the military families to see what their needs outside of their post are.
“We plan to conduct surveys of the businesses we currently have to help determine what would compliment their business, what type of programs would be helpful for them to retain business because we don’t just want to recruit businesses we want to retain the existing businesses we have. I like to promote local businesses, restaurants and eateries. That is really important,” Davis said.
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