'Heart and Souls' tour to start today

ALBANY -- Against the backdrop of perhaps Albany's most famous son, city officials are set to welcome nearly 60 of the state's top economic development officials, downtown revitalizers, business officials and developers, who are currently touring the state.

The Georgia Cities' Foundation's Heart and Souls Tour is bringing the crowd to cities across the state in an effort to promote downtown development and revitalization.

City officials hope that Albany's selection as part of the tour, which will stop in town tonight, will reinvigorate downtown redevelopment efforts.

"It's an amazing opportunity," Assistant City Manager and interim Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority Director James Taylor told board members last week. "These are the experts in downtown development. They understand the challenges and the benefits of these kinds of developments and could really benefit us in what we're trying to do."

Arrangements to ensure what Taylor hopes will be an unforgettable evening in the Good Life City are nearly complete. The group is scheduled to enter Dougherty County around 5:30 p.m. and cruise into downtown while watching a DVD presentation on Albany and Dougherty County.

Once here, they will check into their hotel before joining other city and county officials in a meet-and-greet reception at the Ray Charles Plaza -- where they will hear an a cappella version of Charles' "Georgia on My Mind" -- and dinner in Riverfront Park.

During their visit, the developers will check out area attractions like the Flint RiverQuarium, Thronateeska Heritage Museum and the Civil Rights Institute.

The visitors are set to leave sometime Thursday morning before heading to their next stop.

Aileen Harris, a spokesperson for the Georgia Municipal Association -- which sponsors the event -- said that the meetings do often lead to development opportunities.

"I think it was last year that a developer saw a project in Calhoun that they were interested in and ended up completely rehabilitating an old theater," Harris said. "So there is a definite benefit to being on the tour."

But Albany isn't the only stop on the tour.

According to the Georgia Cities' Foundation, nine cities, most of which are in Southwest Georgia, will be featured on the tour.

Senoia, Griffin, Americus, Albany, Moultrie, Thomasville, Valdosta, Tifton and Cordele will all be featured on the tour, Harris said.