From historical renovations and added green space, to new boutiques and restaurants, Downtown Moultrie isn’t missing a beat when it comes to revitalization.
“It’s all coming together,” says Amy Johnson, downtown economic development and public relations director for the City of Moultrie. “All the activity today is because of the foundation that was laid years ago.”
Tasked with managing Moultrie’s Main Street program, Johnson says it hasn’t been an overnight success. Starting in 2001, the first hint of revitalization began with the City of Moultrie and Colquitt County completing a joint streetscape project.
“The city and county received a transportation grant for sidewalks including around the courthouse square,” says Johnson. “At the same time, the county was renovating the courthouse, which was originally constructed in 1901.”
A domino effect, Johnson says when the courthouse renovations and streetscape projects started, downtown businesses started renovating and buildings were being sold.
Through the years, Johnson says projects have been completed; however, nothing as major as what we currently in the works. “Year-after-year, the foundation continues to strengthen.”
The next wave of change came in 2015, with the adoption of a downtown enhancement plan. Community stakeholders gathered to create a plan, which now serves as Downtown Moultrie’s roadmap for future growth.
With a long list of lofty goals, the enhancement plan includes streetscape projects, business recruitment, increased number of residential units, added green space, a welcome center, and further removal of blight in the downtown area.
“It was almost like a wish list,” says Johnson. “There were many ideas, but there was no funding for the projects.”
Moving from talking to action, several groups rallied together to raise approximately $1 million to fund some of the projects outlined in the enhancement plan.
“Everyone now shares a common vision,” says Johnson. “We are very fortunate to have this level of commitment.”
Representing the importance of partnerships, Johnson credits support from the Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Moultrie Tomorrow, and the Downtown Moultrie Association, as well as buy-in from local government and businesses.
“Continued commitment from the city and county doesn’t stop,” says Johnson. “They understand that downtown is the heartbeat of the community.”
The first enhancement project was a pocket park located at the south entrance to downtown. Southwest Georgia Bank donated the land and provided monetary assistance to build the park adjacent to its home office.
“We were more than willing to step up and do our part to help kick-off the revitalization efforts,” says Ross Dekle, Moultrie region president for Southwest Georgia Bank. “Southwest Georgia Bank started in Moultrie in 1928, and we understand that a thriving downtown is the heartbeat of a community.”
Johnson says the generous donation from Southwest Georgia Bank and other contributors, helped start the revitalization efforts.
“We added benches and landscaping, and the city provided streetscape work on the sidewalks and placed utility lines underground,” says Johnson. “Next door, Southwest Georgia Bank renovated its parking lot and added trees, along with a decorative wrought iron fence.”
After a successful opening of the pocket park, work began on a second park. “Building the Mule Barn Park helped to eliminate blight and made the area much more attractive. The site also has historical significance,” she says about the site’s name, which references a location where farmers came to purchase mules.
Construction on the third park continues on the site of the former Sportsman Restaurant, once a popular gathering place that has been vacant since 2003.
“The downtown area is becoming more of a destination for families to shop, eat, and be a part of all the events,” says Dekle. “The purpose is to continue growing and building on that momentum to attract more high-quality businesses and bring more people downtown.”
Johnson says the creation of the parks, along with improved parking and streetscape work, has brought new life to Moultrie’s downtown area.
“We continue to enhance downtown,” says Johnson, a native of Moultrie. “With a united vision, things are happening, and people are taking a lot of pride in their downtown.”
Creating a sustainable infrastructure is also part of Main Street’s enhancement plan. With help from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, the Downtown Development Authority will install a fiber ring that includes security cameras.
“The cameras offer more than security, they will also be a plus for tourism,” says Johnson. “In the future, we hope to add Wi-Fi and speakers.”
Home Sweet Home
With green space sprouting up and renovation projects ongoing, Moultrie is also becoming a residential hub.
“Downtown is a hot spot,” says Johnson. “We have more people wanting to live downtown, which is good because that brings the need for more shops and restaurants.”
Through the renovation of the former Belk Hudson department store, the building’s top floor is being transformed into eight apartments, with space on the main floor available for retail and dining.
Johnson noted it is difficult to find a business that wants to invest in a massive downtown building. However, the Downtown Development Authority was able to negotiate a long-term lease with Hal Carter, a developer with extensive experience in historic renovations, to take on the Belk Hudson project.
“We are fortunate to have secured a developer to turn the building into apartments. Mr. Carter has a tremendous reputation with historic renovations,” says Johnson, about the renovation of the Colquitt Hotel and Red Building.
With the completion of eight apartments in the new Belk Hudson Lofts, downtown’s residential inventory jumps to nearly 40 units. “It’s exciting to see that people, of all ages, want to live downtown,” says Johnson. “They want to be able to walk to dinner and shop, and enjoy the activities downtown.”
Welcome to Moultrie
While Colquitt County is widely known as an agricultural hub—the largest vegetable and row crop region in Georgia—the community also has a diverse mix of industries and tourism opportunities.
Colquitt County’s tourism highlights include the Sunbelt Ag Expo, which brings more than 80,000 visitors to the region; and the Moss Farms Diving Center, regarded as one of the top outdoor diving centers in the country. Colquitt County also has several agribusinesses on Georgia Grown Trail 37, the state’s first official agritourism highway.
With all of these activities, plus numerous events and festivals, it comes as no surprise that tourism helps generate a $59 million economic impact in Colquitt County.
Johnson says Moultrie will soon have a place to welcome all its visitors. The center, which is in the pre-construction phase, will convert another abandoned downtown building into usable space.
The multi-level welcome center will feature interactive displays and information about Moultrie and Colquitt County, public restrooms, meeting room space, and administrative offices.
An Economic Driver
More than a place to eat, shop, and attend festivals, Johnson says Downtown Moultrie is a significant employer in Colquitt County.
“There are approximately 800 people who work in the downtown area,” she says. “We represent one of Colquitt County’s leading economic drivers.”
An “incubator” for small businesses, the downtown area, has become home to several new boutiques and eateries.
“We are laying a foundation that is critical for us to attract entrepreneurs and developers to be part of downtown,” says Johnson. “With eateries and a mix of retail and professional offices, we are also becoming the boutique capital of South Georgia.”
Johnson, who started with the City of Moultrie in 1998, says she has learned change doesn’t happen overnight. “Some of the projects have taken years to complete. I have learned a lot about being patient, and understanding that working in downtown development is more of a marathon than a sprint.”