Downtown gets extreme makeover

Published 4:28 am Wednesday, February 23, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
Sometimes making progress means taking a step back in time.
Main Street is looking more and more like Bourbon Street as storefronts get new awnings and ironwork to bring downtown back to the 19th century.
A program was started to dress up the city about 10 months ago when First National Bank updated their building and decided it was time for other people to do the same. A plan was set in motion to give low interest rate loans to store owners who wanted to spruce up their shops.
"Basically we offered some preferable rates and financing for businesses that wanted to update their facades," Mike Johns, vice president in charge of credit administration for First National Bank, said. "I think last April was actually the first loan we did."
Since then there have been around four other loans, he said.
"This is basically to dress up the streets," Johns said. "Basically the only requirement we have is that we have a committee that's made up of people in the community that has to approve designs and colors."
So far people have been dressing up their storefronts with awnings.
"It's not locked into any one design or any one color scheme," Johns said. "We just want the colors and designs to coordinate."
Licensed chiropractor and former mayor Rodney Owens has done most of the design and work on the buildings.
"I had been the previous owner of the Wysteria and had done most of the work on that," Owens said. " I was talking to Joey Kelly and I got prices for him on some of the material to fix up his buildings and it kind of mushroomed from there; long story short I began doing all the buildings downtown. I did work on some of his buildings before the hurricane and all of that was still standing after the hurricane so I started getting calls to do other things."
Owens hopes that his work will make Atmore a more beautiful town.
"We're hoping to update or maybe retrofit and bring back the grandeur of Atmore," Owens said. "The hurricane gave store owners a chance to improve and there are advantages to the store owners and to the city."
Owens and his son John have done all the work themselves on seven different stores including Joey's Sporting Goods, Joey's Furniture, Atmore Carpet, Anderson's Radio Shack and Escambia Drug Store.
"We're trying to do each building a little different than the others; each one will have a little bit different decorative ironwork "Owens said. "I'm just glad to be able to have an opportunity to work with my son."
The father-son team is currently working on the Bean's Store.
"We lost our old awning during the hurricane," store owner Edith Bean said. "The new awning will be painted dark blue."
Mayor Howard Shell said he commends the efforts of businesses owners such as Bean.
"I've got a lot of nice comments about their interest in their properties," Shell said. "Any time anyone takes an interest it becomes infectious and then other owners begin to make their businesses look nicer."
While the First National Bank program has been in effect for close to a year, and the first work was began around April, the hurricane seems to be a catalyst for the entire town to get involved.
"After the storm it began to take on a new life and now we have a lot of growth," Shell said.
Shell believes that as the look of the town improves the economy of the town as well.
"Any time you clean up and fix up it works as a catalyst for your town," Shell said. "It has a very positive impression on people passing through."
Shell said that those people passing through would be more likely to spend money or even move their businesses or homes to Atmore if the city shows pride.
If nothing else the city does look better.
"It seems to be going really well downtown," Johns said. "I think it looks really nice."
The loans being offered by First National Bank are prime rate loans with a five-year payout.
"It's what's described in The Wall Street Journal as the New York Prime rate, which right now is at 5.5 percent," Johns said.
The loans are available to anyone in the downtown area who qualifies.

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