Once a hub for shopping, dining, and entertainment, small downtowns across America are struggling to find a new normal. While the Main Street revitalization movement has ignited hundreds of small towns, many are still in need of an awakening.
For the small community of Adel, located off I-75 between Tifton and Valdosta, the time for change has arrived.
“When I was growing up here, everyone came to downtown on Saturday to shop and see a movie,” recalls Adel Mayor L.L. “Buddy” Duke III. “All the stores were thriving.”
Located in Cook County, Adel has celebrated some recent economic victories including the Linde Group’s $40 million atmospheric gas plant, and an approximately $47 million Cook Medical Center. The city is now turning its attention to downtown development.
“With a high percentage of our buildings sitting empty, we needed to do something or the downtown is eventually going to dry up,” says Duke, who became mayor of Adel in 2016. “We are proud of our educational system and industry growth, but downtown is an asset that needs to be reinvigorated.”
Adel City Manager John Flythe says the revitalization efforts started with a small group of downtown merchants. “We had an active group that came to the city with some suggestions and requests for assistance.”
With city and community leaders in agreement that a resurgence of downtown was essential for survival, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) was restructured and charged with creating a strategic plan to foster economic growth.
The plan outlined the goal for downtown Adel to become a “dynamic and inviting destination that meshes the historical with the contemporary, both architecturally and aesthetically. Downtown Adel will become a place to live, as well as welcome locals and visitors alike to work, shop, dine, worship, and play in a clean, landscaped charming, and tech-friendly environment.”
To carry out the plan’s goals and vision, the DDA and City of Adel hired Brandie Dame, who started on June 1, 2018, as the city’s first full-time downtown development director.
“My main goal as main street director this year, and in the years to come, is found in the following quote by Mayor Bill Bell, in Durham, North Carolina, ‘A downtown defines a city as a living room defines a home.’ My goal is to have a well-defined and relaxing ‘living room’ that everyone will want to live, play, work, and enjoy.” — Brandie Dame
Within her first year on the job, Dame says a solid foundation has been established with the downtown merchants and city leadership.
“Revitalizing the downtown is a monumental undertaking that can only be accomplished by many groups working together to bring success,” says Dame. “The downtown belongs to all the people who live here; therefore, it’s important that we operate as a team.”
Last month, the Downtown Adel was designated as a Downtown Affiliate Network by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The affiliate network status demonstrates Adel’s strong commitment toward downtown development and desire for revitalization.
The next level is Classic Main Street, which takes approximately two years to achieve. Requirements include 30 hours of training by the main street director, DDA board and main street director completion of the Mainstreet 101 course, hosting an annual community visual session and work plan meeting, and submitting monthly economic activity reports.
In addition to obtaining Classic Main Street status, the DDA is working on a corridor redevelopment study that will cover I-75 to Highway 37 to the downtown area.
The study is focused on several issues including signage, sidewalk and infrastructure improvements, green space, parking, adaptive reuse of properties, and elimination of blight.
“There are a lot of positives for downtown Adel, starting with the relative low-cost inventory of available buildings,” says Dame. “We want to continue adding a good mix of retail and food establishments, as well as other businesses that will draw families to downtown.”
While looking to boost its revitalization efforts further, the City of Adel is applying to become a Rural Tax Zone. Each year the Georgia Department of Community Affairs selects up to ten communities (population under 15,000) to receive tax credits aimed at job creation and increased private investments in designated locations.
The tax credits would assist Adel in recruiting new businesses, as well as improving the conditions of some of downtown’s historic buildings.
Dame says progress is taking place and efforts are moving in the right direction.
“We have Downtown Days to bring locals and visitors to Adel for shopping,” she says. “These events have been very successful, and our merchants have seen a rise in their sales receipts on those days, plus they have gained new customers.”
A significant tourist draw for Adel is the South Georgia Motor Sports Park, which hosts approximately 30 events a year and attracts thousands of visitors from across the country.
“We recently annexed the sports park into the city to provide them with public services,” Flythe says. “They are a major economic draw not only for Adel but surrounding communities. Visitors come here for the races but also spend money at our grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants.”
Dame says with Adel’s proximity to I-75, the city has the potential to draw travelers to downtown. “We are trying to develop downtown as a place where locals will shop and eat, and also a destination for people passing through.”