By Sidhartha Wakade
Managers from the downtown development offices of cities all across Georgia gathered in downtown Madison for a workshop on Thursday, May 16, 2019.
The program, called Mobilize Main Street, was created to inform city planners and development authorities on how to maintain a historic downtown while advancing business opportunities.
Attendees of the workshop toured downtown alongside employees of the Downtown Development Authority of Madison, carrying umbrellas and fans to fend off the heat.
Monica Callahan, the executive director of Madison’s downtown development authority, said that events like this happen every few years. According to Callahan, “there are roughly 90 odd Main Streets in the state of Georgia.”
The workshop began in Toccoa, and continued into Athens. Madison was the next stop for the managers.
“That allows main street managers to get out into the field and see what other communities are doing,” Callahan said.
That time in the field was spent touring downtown in multiple groups, with attention given to new businesses and historic buildings. The historic feel alongside the new development has had a positive impact on the community, according to Callahan.
“The Firefly Festival is the most attended event now, and it is the most racially diverse event we have,” she said. “I do think that it is directly in response to the city’s investment in downtown.”
Jessica Reynolds, the director of the Office of Downtown Development for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, said that the Madison has “a strong historic preservation ethic.”
“We are not just thinking about the use of the building but how we preserve that building,” she said.
According to Mollie Bogle, a city planner for Madison and one of the tour leaders, other cities have a lot to learn from downtown Madison.
“I think that we have a fantastic volunteer force,” she said. “We know how to layer funding sources and volunteer time to make sweeping changes in Madison, specifically extending our downtown.”
Visiting managers had good things to say about downtown development in Madison, too. Elena McLendon, an office manager for Statesboro’s development authority, said the workshop “inspires” other downtown development managers.
“I am jealous,” she said. “I have learned that there are people who have done an amazing job with their downtown, like Madison.”
There is still work to be done in downtown Madison, however. Much of the development was in residential properties and single purpose units.
“One of the things that we are lagging behind in is our trail development, and that is something that we are actually going to be focusing greatly on in the next few years,” Bogle said.
Residential reception for the changes have been positive. For Karl Jensen, who moved back to Madison after purchasing a house in the area, the area has done well in preserving its roots.
“I lived here 11 years ago and moved back for the family,” he said “This place is homey.”