Albany downtown manager Aaron Blair shares projects update with the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — A few weeks in front of his “State of the Downtown” meeting, Albany Downtown Manager and ADICA CEO Aaron Blair, gave members of the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County a preview of some of what will be discussed at that meeting.
Blair ran through a list of projects currently under way, starting with an update of outdoor projects designed to bring focus to the Flint River and its surroundings.
“We wanted to refocus on the river,” Blair said. “The river’s what makes us unique compared to other downtowns, so what we really wanted to do was start at Front Street and refocus on engaging the river more.”
Blair said ADICA officials felt there was a need to improve the overall look of Front Street, primarily along the 100 block of the street, directly across from the Albany Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s Welcome Center.
To that end the organization has nearly completed a two year renovation project to improve the look of many of those buildings, to make them more appealing to residents and visitors.
“Most of our visitors that come into our town come to Front Street first, go Riverfront Park,” Blair said. “We have such an investment already in Riverfront Park and the RiverQuarium, but yet you would stand there and look across the street and it would look like a bomb blew up. From a citizen’s perspective, like myself, I was embarrassed by that. We had boarded up buildings that are now completely amazing looking. But that’s a program that we’ve really pushed over the last two years.”
The completion of that renovation project could not have come at a better time, Blair said.
“One of the projects that we worked on, it probably took us a year and half to get it going, was our kayak launches, our canoe launches,” said Blair. “We have a great river. It doesn’t provide the depths for boats, large boats, but it does allow us to have kayaks and canoes. The best way to get people and have more people to use the river is to have safe access.”
While one of the launches will be located near a current boat ramp at the Georgia Power dam, the other two launches will be in downtown Albany, at the edge of Riverfront Park, one near the entrance to the river walking trail, near the old rail bridge and the other below the Ray Charles Memorial.
In addition to the new river access that Blair hopes will bring outdoor enthusiasts to the area, Blair hopes a recently refurbished mountain bike trail south of the Albany Civic Center will do the same.
“We now have IMBA, which stands for International Mountain Bike Association,” said Blair. “We now have an official chapter here in Albany, which is a big deal for us. In the mountain bike world, if you’re not IMBA certified you’re not legitimate by most standards.”
With so much happening in regard to outdoor activity in downtown, one thing the downtown manager feels is now needed is an retail outfitter that can handle canoe, kayak and bike rentals and sales, along with all the things that go along with that.
“We need an outfitter,” said Blair. “At the RiverQuarium right now they do a lot of kayak and canoe trips but we need someone that’s permanently downtown that can meet that need for kayaking, fishing, bicycling, and things of that nature. So you’ll see that’s something we’re really going to go after.”