MILLEDGEVILLE — The City of Milledgeville's downtown district hosted a visiting group as the second stop on the 2013 Georgia Cities Heart and Soul Bus Tour. The bus arrived after 1 p.m. Wednesday at Allen's Market.
City officials, business leaders and the Milledgeville Main Street staff greeted and conversed with guests, including state agency heads, downtown developers and philanthropists.
The Georgia Municipal Association and the Georgia Cities Foundation sponsor the Heart and Soul Bus Tour with a goal to educate and inform these individuals about the importance of successful downtown development as well as revitalization.
Each year Georgia Cities selects cities to participate based on their efforts to create vibrant and strong communities as well as successful examples of public and private rehabilitation with an emphasis on historic preservation. The 2013 bus tour also included the downtown programs in the cities of Eatonton, Macon, Hawkinsville, Columbus, West Point, LaGrange, Newnan and Carrolton.
This is the second time Milledgeville has been a tour stop, since the foundation began the tours in 2001. Mayor Richard Bentley welcomed the guests back after an 11-year hiatus.
“We welcome you here and invite you to come back for years to come,” Bentley said.
The mayor highlighted the two completed streetscape phases that have made the sidewalks more inviting, as well as future Oconee River Greenway plans and Elks Building renovations for an economic hub.
Visitors viewed different downtown development projects like The Baldwin Lofts, Digital Bridges and Aubri Lane’s.
Bentley said The Baldwin came about through owner Frank Pendergast's work with the city and state. The old Belk's department store now houses student and professionals.
“The economy made us look at it differently. The lofts benefit downtown,” the mayor said.
The building features 15 apartments, two commercial spaces and an internal courtyard cut out of a 30-by-50-foot roof section bringing natural light into what once was a basement. These loft apartments and retail spaces have become a Hancock Street centerpiece.
The Baldwin Lofts rehabilitation was financed in part by Georgia Cities and the Department of Community Affairs. The Baldwin received state and federal tax credits to make construction possible.
Georgia Cities Foundation President Michael Starr said The Baldwin was a big part of Milledgeville's tour recognition. He likes the town's infrastructure assets and nuance.
“We know there is a comprehensive planning process going on to keep downtown not only intact, but to revitalize it in a lot of different ways,” Starr said.
The foundation president described three things all successful downtown’s have —political will, private investment and visions turning into a developed plan.
Milledgeville ranks well considering these criteria, according to Starr.
“I think we find all of those in Milledgeville,” he said.
Starr noted a lot of things have changed for the better since the last 2002 tour visit.
The city's guests heard featured speakers representing Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority and the Greenway before a taste of the town at Aubri Lane's.
Private investment guests could help the community with funding down the line. Flaunting all the development efforts throughout the area might turn the tide with local projects.
“Downtowns are the heartbeat of our communities,” Bentley said. “We have a great interest in making sure our downtown survives.”
To view additional photos from the local tour, visit http://unionrecorder.smugmug.com/buy/28744270_VRKhmv/2439770358_GwKGjWq/
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