Positive feedback from MainStreet resource team

Published 10:00 am Saturday, January 28, 2023

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The MainStreet Alabama Resource team gave positive initial findings and recommendations for LaFayette MainStreet to a full room of citizens on Thursday. This comes after a week of surveys, walking tours and interviews with local business owners. 

“Sometimes I go into a community, I can almost tell whether that community is actually going to do something actually right, make some change. You’re there truly,” said Downtown Professionals Network Jay Shlinsog.

The resource team began the public presentation by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses that citizens pointed to during the visioning session Tuesday. 

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Downtown’s top strengths were its location, architectural beauty and being historic, while its weaknesses were perception, vacant buildings and parking. Some of the things citizens wanted to see in five years were new restaurants, nightlife activities and farmer’s markets.

The resource team also shared the preliminary results of a pulse poll survey. With 251 respondents, downtown’s sense of community had a 3.5 or average rating. Fifty-one percent of respondents said downtown was improving and 31 percent said it was holding steady. As for what people like best about downtown, a word cloud showed “historic” and “buildings” to be popular answers. 

The resource team gave recommendations for community engagement, development and architectural preservation, storefront development and branding.

Architect and Design Coordinator Ben Moore suggested using regular community cleanup, decorative vinyl and consistent design throughout downtown. He presented a computer-generated projection of what downtown might look like with consistent historic lamp posts and refreshed signage. 

For vacant buildings and storefronts, Moore suggested beautifying boarded-up windows with historical and local vinyl cling images. The audience got a laugh when Moore pulled up a local, historic photo as an example, and LaFayette resident Bell Todd called out that her father, Gaines Davis, was featured. 

According to Schlinsog, the lost sales from an empty storefront downtown could be between $250,000 to $400,000. Empty storefronts have the potential for creating even more revenue for the community. Schilnsog and Field Service Specialist Tanya Maloney also recommended strengthening the existing economy.

“The key here is those historic assets which set you apart from any place else. There is only one downtown Lafayette,” Schlinsog said.

Schlinsog gave an example of a small business owner from Calera. Nedra had a lucrative career in technology but dreamed of being a baker. She renovated a 400-square-foot storefront into a bakery and became a success story.

Maloney recommended promoting businesses using special events and festivals, consistent branded social media postings and branded signage. She also gave examples of MainStreet communities using signage to share the history of their town.

“Tell your story,” Maloney said. 

State Coordinator Mary Helmer Wirth spoke about utilizing the partners that LaFayette Main Street has such as the Chambers County Development Authority and Greater Valley Area Chamber of Commerce. She also recommended engaging the volunteer base and community by determining effective communication channels.

“MainStreet works 100 percent of the time if the community is willing to work it,” Wirth said.

DeAnne Benedict, a native of LaFayette, attended both the visioning session and the public presentation. She said LaFayette MainStreet will greatly benefit downtown in years to come. She looks forward to the revitalization of new businesses and restaurants that Main Street will stimulate. After moving back to town from Birmingham in 2020, Benedict said she looks forward to seeing growth.

“I’m excited to see it regain the momentum that it used to have,” Benedict said. 

On Feb. 3, LaFayette Main Street will have a market study pre-planning visit from the resource team. On Feb. 15, the resource team will return for a follow-up to see how plans are progressing. LaFayette MainStreet’s strategic plan will be delivered on April 18 and 19.