Group focuses on downtown

Published 3:50 pm Wednesday, February 18, 2009

By By MaryClaire Foster
For years, “Main Street” all over the U.S. has been seeing a significant decrease in business traffic, but the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street project is seeking to change that.
Representatives from the program, which has been successful in 2,000 communities across the nation, were in Atmore Feb. 10 to meet with downtown business owners along with Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce representatives and Atmore Mayor Howard Shell to discuss what could be done to bring a downtown revitalization to the city.
According to its Web site, in the 1970s, the National Trust “developed its pioneering Main Street approach to commercial district revitalization, an innovative methodology that combines historic preservation with economic development to restore prosperity and vitality to downtowns and neighborhood business districts.”
Ellen Mertins, director of outreach for the state historical society, said the program has been very successful in other states such as Mississippi and wants to do the same for Alabama. She added that downtowns like Atmore’s were becoming obsolete and that she was drawn to its charm.
The Trust held similar meetings in four other locations in the state, which were Birmingham, Gadsden, Montgomery and Athens.
Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sheryl Vickery was instrumental in bringing the meeting to Atmore and said she is excited to see what opportunities the program can bring.
Nancy Helton, who attended a Your Town event with Vickery this past summer, said the meeting served as a reminder to how a downtown can affect how a town is perceived to outsiders.
Representatives at the meeting also spoke of the importance of having a well-kept, prosperous downtown to attract new business as well as help those already established.
As of now, a program has not been launched, but after holding similar focus groups around the state it will be decided on whether to initiate hiring a Main Street project staff that will service all of Alabama.

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