First National to make improvements, low interest loans

Published 2:19 pm Wednesday, December 17, 2003

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
Part of Atmore's five-year strategic plan is to make the town have a better overall physical impression. But renovation of a business facade can be daunting.
So First National Bank is launching a low-interest loan program that will help those businesses put on a fresh face.
But the bank is choosing to lead by example.
Tuesday it brought in Clay Adams, an architect with Walcott, Adams and Verneuille to help the bank determine how to go about renovating the facade of two buildings it owns on East Nashville Avenue. The firm is part of the Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce.
Shep Marsh, president of the bank, hopes that the work will be the first pebble in a landslide of renovation.
"A strategic plan, by definition, is a long-term view," Marsh said. "But we have to start somewhere. We want to provide the start. This is the kind of thing that catches on. The more people (renovate), the more others will want to do it. So we are going to start with the two we own."
Marsh said the bank uses the buildings for storage, but just because they are without tenants doesn't mean they have to look empty.
"You never get a second chance to make a first impression," he said. "And you never know when you are making that impression."
Marsh said the bank has a vested interest in making the strategic plan work.
"The bank depends on the viability of Atmore. This is our market. We are trying to generate enthusiasm and activity. I've seen similar programs work. It takes on a life of its own."
And so it is that with the renovation of two buildings, Marsh hopes to spark a wave of work and interest in the downtown area. "I hope the improvements are contagious, that the owners see one building done and how good it can look, then they want to do theirs. I hope it breeds enthusiasm."
The loans offered by the bank are just a way to help with the work.
"We want to remove financing as a stumbling block," Marsh said.
As far as the bank's two buildings go, Marsh isn't sure what the architect will come up with when he has completed his survey of the facilities.
Adams seemed to think that the renovations would not require a major reconstruction. He called one of the buildings, the one that previously housed Stabler's, 'a blank slate.' He was excited about the potential of the buildings and the downtown area.
Adams told First National Senior Vice President Dale Hurst that when the buildings were completed they could serve as something for the bank to point to as an example of what could be done for a relatively small sum of money.
Atmore Mayor Howard Shell is also excited about the program that could jumpstart revitalization.
"I think it is a very good initiative," Shell said. "I'm glad to see First National taking a positive step by starting with their buildings."

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