Decatur joins Georgia Downtown Main Street Affiliate NetworkThe Decatur Downtown Development Authority met on Friday, May 14, to discuss joining the Georgia Downtown Main Street Affiliate Network and discuss the city's strategic plan. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
Decatur, GA — The Decatur Downtown Development Authority at its May 14 meeting approved a memorandum of understanding between the board and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs Office of Downtown Development to participate in the Georgia Downtown Main Street Affiliate Network.
Decatur had been an honorary affiliate until last year. There is a three-step process to becoming a member of the Main Street Affiliate Network which includes reporting, doing a Main Street training and having a board in place, which could be the DDA, Downtown Program Manager Shirley Baylis said.
“We actually were an affiliate last year,” Baylis said. “That was the reason we were able to participate in several grants that were offered through the national office.”
The city is also part of the National Main Street program. During COVID-19, three Decatur businesses received a total of $45,000 in grants through the National Main Street Society. Decatur was the first city in the state to receive grants in the first round of funding through the national program.
The program is for cities that have a certain amount of historic buildings within their city, so it only covers certain areas of the city. For Decatur, that has been the downtown area on West Ponce de Leon Avenue and Church Street, Baylis said.
Decatur Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill said,“I would just add that this designation is really meant for communities that show a commitment to the revitalization of their downtown or their historic commercial district that they show economic vitality, the promotion of their local businesses and of course…that commitment has been shown over many decades.”
The MOU outlines the expectations of the city in order to be an affiliate. It includes appointing the DDA as the board that would implement the main street program, employing a paid professional, completing monthly reporting, continuing to work with stakeholders on the vision for downtown and having funding sources.
One additional requirement of the board in the MOU is to complete an annual main street training in addition to the DDA training.
“Of everything that’s in here, we’re already performing everything except for those two little training bits, so we feel pretty confident that this is a right fit to be a part of the Georgia Downtown Affiliate Network,” Threadgill said.
DDA Chair Conor McNally said the MOU seems like a continuation of a good relationship and something that doesn’t require much more effort above what the DDA is already doing.
In other business, the DDA continued discussion on the review of the city’s strategic plan as the board reviewed community feedback.
Some elements of the feedback and the draft plan are carried over from the previous strategic plan including reviewing the city’s sign ordinance and creating incubator spaces.
Regarding the sign ordinance, McNally said the city needs to be thoughtful and careful to not overly harm businesses in Decatur and their opportunities to succeed. He added that the city should be supportive of its businesses and make sure they’re not constraining a business’s ability to have signage.
“I think often there’s a perspective aesthetically to try to control signs and to do things that may seem logical because we don’t want things getting out of hand and downtown Decatur is not Times Square,” McNally said. “But I think there’s a lot of very interesting and unique developments going on in what people are doing with signage and I would encourage us to remain open-minded.”
Strategic plan recommendations from the public included looking at annexations strategically and thinking about their impact on the Decatur’s schools and city services as well as looking at affordable housing and retail space.
McNally said that affordable housing needs to be more of a focus in the updated strategic plan.
“We have a serious affordable housing problem in Decatur, which there are a lot of people and groups and efforts working on, but it relates squarely with economic development,” McNally said. “If we can’t have affordable housing for people who work in Decatur, if people who work in Decatur can’t live anywhere close to Decatur, it creates an issue for us.”
The recommendations also address engaging visitors. Threadgill said city staff has heard from the community that they want a small theater.
Another focus regarding visitors is to make sure the city has returning and repeat customers that want to come back to Decatur.
A couple of ways to do that is attracting another boutique hotel and potentially attracting a national retailer.
“I know that we like to say that we’re full of mom-and-pop shops, that we keep it in Decatur with independent shops, but we recognize that there is an importance to having national retailers because those national brands, they’re recognizable,” Threadgill said. “Someone who may not be thinking [about] visiting Decatur but if they see that a national retailer is here that might draw them, but then it’s our independent shops that keep them here and keep them coming back.”
The community also encouraged the city to look at providing a childcare voucher pilot program.
“We heard a lot from our community about needing childcare for our workers in the area,” Threadgill said. “Employers aren’t necessarily providing the childcare.”
The recommendations also included feedback on economic development and placemaking. The community input will be made available on the city’s strategic plan website this week.
The DDA will meet next on June 11.
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