Welcome to the Neighborhood: Bainbridge Riding the Wave of Revitalization


 

downtown Bainbridge

Amanda Glover, executive director of the Bainbridge Downtown Development Authority

Another “sold” sign pops up, adding to the growing list of businesses eager to be a part the revitalization in downtown Bainbridge.

Amanda Glover, executive director of the Bainbridge Downtown Development Authority (DDA) says the recent surge in real estate activity is due in large part to the city’s designation as a Georgia Rural Zone, which provides tax credits for economic growth in the downtown area.

Under the direction of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, each year up to 10 communities are established as Rural Zones. The zones enable businesses and investors to obtain tax credits for up to five years. The tax credits are available for job creation activities, investment in downtown properties, and renovation of properties to make them usable.

To receive designation as a Rural Zone, cities must have a population of less than 15,000. Other requirements include a concentration of historic commercial structures within the zone; proven economic distress based on poverty rate, vacancy within the downtown area, or blight; and a master or strategic plan designed to guide private and public investment.

Bainbridge, an accredited Main Street America program, was one of nine downtowns selected as a Rural Zone in 2018. The other communities include Commerce, Cornelia, Fitzgerald, Jonesboro, Nashville, Perry, Springfield, and Toccoa. This year, the state has designated the cities of Avondale Estates, Greensboro, Hartwell, Hogansville, Jesup, Locust Grove, Monticello, Sylvester, and Waycross as Rural Zones.

“We never had this kind of growth before,” says Glover, referencing the impact of the rural tax credits. “It’s important to know that the tax credits are also available for the expansion of existing businesses downtown, they just have to add the equivalent of two new jobs.”

While downtowns, especially in smaller rural communities, represent significant historical importance, the economic vitality for some have been in decline over the past few decades. Georgia’s rural zones were created by the General Assembly to stimulate economic growth through three tax credits.

With a domino effect, it starts with the creation of two full-time equivalent jobs, which allows a $2,000 credit for each new full-time equivalent employee per year, for up to five years and not to exceed $40,000 in credits each year.

Once the job requirement is met, businesses can apply for an investment tax credit that represents 25 percent of the building’s purchase price, up to $125,000 and claimed over five years.

The third tax credit covers 30 percent of the building’s qualified rehabilitation costs, but not to exceed $150,000, with the credits prorated equally over three years.

“It all starts with creating the two full-time jobs,” says Glover, who has worked for the City of Bainbridge since 1999. “A business can’t get the investment and rehabilitation credits without the job creation.”

Not an indefinite incentive, the rural zones are only valid for five years. “Our designation in Bainbridge is up in 2023,” says Glover. “If someone wants to buy a building during the last year, they will still get their full five years of tax credits.”

 

“The rural tax credits have been our saving grace,” says Glover. “All the pieces of the puzzle have started being put together. The local businesses are wanting to be more involved, and we have young entrepreneurs opening businesses. It is all those little incremental shifts that are allowing us to grow.”

 

Construction Abounds

In its first year of Rural Zone status, 32 properties were sold in downtown Bainbridge, creating approximately $2 million in sales. From the properties sold, seven new businesses were established, adding 55 new jobs to downtown.

Glover says that though it might be a little distracting, the sounds of jackhammers and construction noises represent prosperity. “When I walk around downtown there is a lot of activity and excitement.”

With a growing list of renovations that have been completed or recently started, Glover says there is still a lot of space available.

On the west side of the square, Diablo’s Southwest Grill adds another eating establishment to downtown.

Gallagher and Nicole Dempsey moved to Bainbridge to open a microbrewery and become part of the downtown revitalization movement.

The highly anticipated Southern Philosophy Brewery is set to open this summer. Owners Gallagher and Nicole Dempsey moved to Bainbridge last year to establish a microbrewery.

With a lot of charm, but in need of work, the Dempseys purchased an historic building on Broughton Street, ideally situated on the square. From the rustic hardwood floors and exposed brick walls to incorporating unclaimed wood from a family farm, Gallagher Dempsey has completed about 60 percent of the renovations himself.

“I have been playing with the idea of opening a brewpub for a long time,” Dempsey says. “We came here to visit and fell in love with the downtown area.”

With the rural tax credits as an incentive, Dempsey says it was really about the whole package. “I saw potential here; and a lot of things were happening in downtown.”

Considered a microbrewery, Southern Philosophy will serve homebrew craft beers and cocktails, along with artisan pizza and light food choices.

The American in Bainbridge

Heather and Tyler Thomas, pictured with their daughter Vivienne, moved to Bainbridge from Tallahassee to open Th American. The couple’s next project is a boutique hotel in Downtown Bainbridge.

Just down the street, Tyler and Heather Thomas opened The American in 2017, a year ahead of eligibility for the rural tax credit. With the renovation excitement escalating in downtown, the couple decided to take advantage of the rural tax credits and purchase the second floor of the Belcher Building to create a boutique hotel.

Formerly the Park Hotel, the second floor has been vacant for more than 50 years, while the downstairs currently contains retail space.

Scheduled to open fall 2019, the hotel will feature six bedrooms, all with private baths, and a café open to the public.

An advocate for downtown revitalization, local contractor Doug Young, owner of PDC Construction, has purchased two historic buildings, and both qualify for the rural tax credits.

“For years Amanda (Glover) has been showing me buildings downtown,” says Young, “and I never could find the right fit.”

Last year, Young, and his wife, Sherry, purchased what was once known as the Eagle Saloon, constructed in circa 1890.

“It was a saloon back in the beginning, then a department store, and furniture store,” says Young. “The downstairs has been unoccupied for about two years, and the top floor has been vacant for at least 50 years.”

Located across from the downtown square on Water Street, Young says it will have two apartments upstairs and a day spa on the bottom floor.

Doug Young is investing in Downtown Bainbridge with the renovation of two historic buildings.

Young’s second purchase was the Callahan Building. After being damaged by Hurricane Michael, which ripped through North Florida and Southwest Georgia in October, Young plans to repair the damages and make improvements.

“The first building was intentional, we were looking for a special project,” says Young. “The Callahan Building had seven apartments upstairs, and five retail spaces downstairs. When the hurricane hit everyone in the building lost their homes and businesses.”

Young says the rural tax credits were a deciding factor in purchasing both buildings.

“The tax credits are a big benefit, and I would not have been able to purchase the Callahan Building without the tax credits and DCA loans.”

With a vibrant mix of shops, restaurants, government offices, and professional services, there is a daily stream of people moving through the Downtown Bainbridge.

Annual events like the American Bluegrass & Folk Festival, held in May, are helping to bring visitors to Bainbridge.

“Our goal is to make Downtown Bainbridge a destination,” says Glover, who notes that Bainbridge is a Georgia Exceptional Main Street (GEMS) community, “We want to attract more visitors from surrounding communities including Cairo, Camila, Blakley, Thomasville, and even Tallahassee.”

In addition to renovations of existing buildings, Glover says the Bainbridge DDA is working to create more public outdoor space.

Formerly a dingy passageway between buildings, the recently completed Broad Street Alley is an example of how an unused, blighted area can be transformed into usable public space. The project was a public-private venture that received funding from the Bainbridge DDA, City of Bainbridge, and First National Bank.

Glover says the next outdoor project is a former livery stable that will be converted into an open-air venue for public events, concerts, and farmers market.

“The rural tax credits have been our saving grace,” says Glover. “All the pieces of the puzzle have started being put together. The local businesses are wanting to be more involved, and we have young entrepreneurs opening businesses. It is all those little incremental shifts that are allowing us to grow.”

 

 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *