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Future of downtown Albany discussed

ALBANY, Ga. — Better marketing opportunities, better parking and openness for development were some of the key topics discussed by business owners, government officials and other downtown “stakeholders” Tuesday night.

Hosted by Ward III City Commissioner Christopher Pike, Downtown Merchants Association President Tosh Sevier and City Manager James Taylor, the two-hour meeting was essentially a listening session for those interested in downtown to voice their ideas and concerns for the heart of the city and how local government officials intend to further redevelop the area.

“The most important thing we can do is get your input and concerns,” said Taylor, who asked those in attendance to write down the three most pressing issues facing downtown and leave them with Downtown Manager Aaron Blair and himself.

Taylor outlined the city’s plan for downtown development which, in the near term, includes a sidewalk enhancement and streetscape beautification project on Pine and Broad avenues. The project includes widening sidewalks to allow for outdoor eating or shopping and narrowing roads to slow the speed of traffic downtown for safety.

Bob Brooks, one of the city’s largest real estate developers, told the group about his recent renovation of the Nelson Tift Building on the 200 block of Broad Avenue, and explained his plan for renovations of the Exchange Building — the six-story structure at the corner of Broad and Washington Street.

That renovation includes remodeling the bottom two floors as office space, which Brooks said is already leased, converting the sixth floor into a restaurant and he said he plans to convert floors three, four and five into loft or apartment space if he can get a little help from the city.

For Brooks, who owns a substantial amount of property downtown, the key challenge facing the survival of one of downtown’s attractions — the Hilton Garden Inn — would involve demolishing one of downtown’s oldest structures.

“The single biggest problem downtown right now as I see it is parking for the Hilton. ... We should tear down that (Holman) Mule Barn and put a parking deck so people aren’t parking all over downtown when they have an event,” Brooks said.

That comment drew sharp criticism from Miloy Schwartz, the former owner of Lemonade Marketing downtown, who said that the city had already demolished too many of its historic structures.

“We’ve already demolished too much,” Schwartz said.

“Who do you mean we?” Brooks countered.

“We, the city of Albany, the residents of the city have seen too much demolished already downtown,” Schwartz said.

Brooks conceded that the facade of the structure could possibly be saved, but that ultimately it was a prime location for a small deck for the businesses on Broad Avenue.

Parking also came up from Sevier, who suggested that some valet service or an alternative was needed when Brooks had events at the Tift building because it prevents patrons of some of the other businesses downtown from parking near the stores.

Marketing downtown was another issue that came up in the discussion multiple times.

Local notables B.J. Fletcher, who was associated with Cafe 230 and now serves as the catering and sales manager at the Hilton Garden Inn, Lane Rosen, who owns the State Theatre, and Anthony Clark of Antfarm Marketing, all expressed a need for a cohesive and uniform marketing strategy for downtown businesses.

“We’ve got to get outside of Albany, though,” Rosen said. “We’ve got to advertise in Valdosta and get billboards up along the interstate to draw in outsiders.”

Both Blair and Convention and Visitors Bureau Manager Rashelle Beasley have launched new marketing campaigns meant to draw people from outside the Albany metro area.

Blair’s commercial began airing this month on both local and non-local television stations, touting downtown as a place for the arts, while Beasley said that advertising in various trade and travel magazines had been a fixture of her job at the CVB and that new billboards were going up on Interstate 85 South near Columbus.

Still, downtown officials are wrestling with what they want to be.

Gail Morrill of GABE, a bridal and alteration store on Broad, said that she believes enough bars have moved into the area and that downtown should remain a family-friendly environment.

Taylor said that he didn’t believe an “entertainment district” was the right idea for downtown but said that he believed a more mixed-culture approach is needed.

“In order to succeed, I think we have to have an eclectic culture downtown,” Taylor said.

Comments

Abytaxpayer 1 year, 10 months ago

An eclectic culture downtown, yep that will do it. If not then surely narrowing roads to slow the speed of traffic downtown will. How about they just try being honest for a change and dig one big hole in the middle of Downtown and just throw our tax money directly in it and cut out all the BS hair brain ideas.

More politicians and bureaucratss spending that Free Money (Our tax dollars) O yes we need a millage rate increase don’t we.

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tocar 1 year, 10 months ago

I agree with you Abytaxpayer. It is not enough that we are struggling now with budgets because of the unwillingness of commissioners to cut positions, we are going to have a tax increase whether we like it or not. You need to read the comments on the front page of the Sylvester Local newspaper. The commissioners found ways to make cuts because they said they would not ask residents for a tax increase with the economy as it is. Wish our commissioners thought this way. They are going to tax the 15 percent paying taxes to death. Remember we need all of these wheels to run this large city. In their minds we are as large as Macon, Columbus, or Savannah. There is one difference. These other cities have industries who help support the tax bases and we do not. Our commissioners are going to tax us right on out and they are going to be left with the welfare recipient's and street walkers who pay no taxes because they do not work. Let's all move to Worth County where someone cares.

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chinaberry25 1 year, 10 months ago

Downtown will never fly, no matter the amount of money spent. Landlords scarfed up all the buildings to rent and they want an arm and leg to rent them. The traffic does not warrant the high rents. Then all the panhandlers that you have to wade through. I go there for the Cookie Shop and the library and have had my car broken in at least once. I am very careful to leave nothing in it. Sundays are dead there and that is a big day for folks and nothing to do there. Friday nights has Riverfront and nothing else. Get my drift??

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VietVet1 1 year, 10 months ago

I know. Let's build an archway leading to a memorial for Ray Charles alongside a riverwalk with a bridge house and huge fish pond - - - that'll draw tourism by the thousand.

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Outtahere 1 year, 10 months ago

You know, I couldn't even read the article because I'm just so sure it's the same ole', same ole'. I will read it - just not right now.

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agonized 1 year, 10 months ago

HA! I skipped straight to the comments myself.

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alleebrin 1 year, 10 months ago

I resent to the hilt spending taxpayers' money on downtown. And any individual who wants to put thays money there, has more money than good sense!! No way I'm going downtown during the day (except for necessary business purposes) let alone at night! Doesn't take long at all for any improvements to be trashed!!

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Cartman 1 year, 10 months ago

Why not let the eclectic culture pay for the development then? If they absolutely have to spend taxpayer money for development; I wish for once they would do it where it has a chance of succeeding - instead of dumping it in the downtown money pit. Why does it have to be downtown? Money gets no return there. Try something else.

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waltspecht 1 year, 10 months ago

One can remember back to when the Civic Center was first opened. Even with the Mayor pushing the Police presance at events, things still happened. I know of currently, and definately knew of then people that were afraid to go there at night. I can remember folks that didn't want to go to the Bagle Break because of the parking. Sounds like some of the same old arguments we have heard for 30 years now. Until you straighten out that perception od no Safety, and no Parking it just isn't going to make it. I remember when the Riverquarium first opened. Our Company had a function at the Civic Center. I drove by the Aquarium to get a look at it. The folks that were hanging around there at 9:30 PM made that weight on my right hip feel comforting.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 10 months ago

Not another penny of tax revenue or tax fund support should be used to rehab drown town.

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BettyBowTie 1 year, 10 months ago

The facade of our last remaining mule barn was designed by the famed architect Edward Vason Jones. The same man that designed the Green Room of The White House and also the lobby of the Defense Department building in Washington DC. Bob Brooks needs his head examined. He is only looking out for his interests and cares nothing for our tiny bit of remaining history here. To the naysayers about downtown I must tell you. Downtown is the original Albany. It is important, but not after all the history is removed. Also to the city I would say, Downtown belongs to ALL of Albany. We are ALL stakeholders. I am offended that only a handful of people are deciding the fate of even more of our history. This town has no sense of history and no pride. We NEVER learn! The bridge, now the barn. What will it be next month?

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Abytaxpayer 1 year, 10 months ago

Betty I sympathize with your feelings that Downtown is the original Albany. I grew up here and remember when everyone wanted to go Downtown because Albany was alive and a great place to go. It was pretty much the Heart and Soul of SoWeGa and the life blood of every business in Albany. I remember what a big treat it was to get to go to Downtown all day on Saturdays. But we must be realistic that the heart and soul of Downtown has long ago been killed by a segment of our society that cares nothing about the rest of society. To them Downtown is nothing more than a hunting ground for their next victim. Once they staked their claims to Downtown the rest of society moved to the next area for safety and peace of mind for the family . All the glitz and glamour will not restore people’s gut feeling they are not safe Downtown. It only takes one incident in a blue moon to reinforce people’s fears and rekindle their memories of the past. With the current generations having no fond memories to draw them to Downtown, it will be an uphill battle to instill a desire in them to go downtown for anything more than special events, which they know the police are covering which makes them feel safe, but just while the police are present. Then add the events in the past year where you have fights and gangs hanging around and people just don’t want to risk (imagined or not) being the next victim. Sadly in the real world if there was hope of reviving Downtown you would see developers lining up with their own money to get a piece of Downtown. But what we have is dreamers telling us it will be coming back to life and developers saying they can make a go of the pipedream BUT we just have to give them OUR Tax dollars to do it.

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BettyBowTie 1 year, 10 months ago

Downtown City Manager Aaron Blair, also of ADICA, says the mule barn will NOT be torn down. Let us hope that is true. It still worries me that both Bob Brooks AND former LT. Governor Mark Taylor want it razed.

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Abytaxpayer 1 year, 10 months ago

As for Bob and Mark’s desires Downtown. Just follow the trail to the FREE (tax ) money.

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Hoodie 1 year, 10 months ago

Bulldoze it all or move what you can to the other side of town only way it'll survive....

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billslugg 1 year, 10 months ago

The front door of the Mule barn could serve as an entrance to a parking garage. The roof of the mule barn,nor the interior can be sacrificed at little historical cost and a modern reinforced concrete parking garage as tall as you want could be constructed within the confines of the four brick walls. A worst case "save" might be just the facade. Yes, the barn is of historical significance. No, the barn cannot laze around and not earn its keep.

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agirl_25 1 year, 10 months ago

When we moved back in the area over 30+ years ago I remember what a nice town Albany was. As a matter of fact, I even took the train in to Albany in '63 from South Carolina...that was a treat. I remember shopping in downtown Albany, going to Belk's....and all the nice shops in the area...it was a great place to shop. Then it started to slide and I have not been in years and would not go now if you paid me.

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