Hinesville Downtown Development Partners gathered last Thursday in city hall to hear a speaker with their same goals in mind.
Billy Peppers, director of the Office of Downtown Development, Georgia Department of Community Affairs, talked about the state’s Main Street Community program.
Vicki Davis, executive director of the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority, said Peppers’ visit was part of the city’s application to be designated as a Main Street Community.
Davis said the HDDA invited business and property owners, downtown workers, retirees and residents interested in downtown. It was important, she said, that they hear Peppers explain the program’s criteria, selection process, benefits and responsibilities,
Business and civic leaders continued to arrive even after Peppers began. Eventually, the Hinesville Room was filled to capacity.
Peppers told them the Main Street concept goes back to 1980, when the state realized small, downtown business owners were mostly disorganized and struggling to stay in business. But many of the same communities had shopping areas or malls that were organized.
He said the state decided to try to help downtown businesses. Peppers called the state program a community-based initiative that encourages public and private partnerships to revitalize downtowns and turn them into successful business districts.
This is done, he said, by following a four-point approach — organization, design, promotion and economic development.
“There is hardly an issue in any downtown community in Georgia that has not been faced in another (downtown) community,” Peppers said. “Our program is about working with individual communities to help them develop ... We’re going to help you, no matter what.”
This year, 26 downtowns will be considered, he said, and his office will consider several criteria and select the communities they believe can be accredited by the end of the year.
During a discussion of the strengths of downtown Hinesville, responses included the mix of businesses, support of the chamber of commerce and the Hinesville Area Arts Council and downtown events and festivals like the Farmers Market, Small World Festival and Blues & BBQ.
“It’s tough running a small business,” Peppers said, explaining that small businesses tend to treat employees like family. “During hard economic times like these, you cut everywhere else you can cut before you cut your employees.”
He said the goal of the program is to help downtowns create jobs that are sustainable even during hard times.
He reiterated that even if Hinesville is not selected this year, the locals should continue to work to create a safe, inviting environment for shoppers, workers and visitors; help create a positive image that’ll rekindle community pride; and help strengthen existing economic assets.