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Downtown looks for a rebound
Economys downturn hit area small businesses harshly
010410 BIZ DOWNTOWN 011W
Allen Muldrew, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, top, takes in the view from a loft apartment on West Main Street while a welder assembles the railing to a stairway. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
      Like other commercial districts in Statesboro, downtown has not been immune to the downturn in the economy.
       With its renaissance in temporary flux, Downtown Statesboro Development Authority executive director Allen Muldrew said he and the organization's board feel the time is right to put the framework in place for future development.
       "We feel that downtown will be its most vibrant and successful when it truly becomes a place to live, work, and play," Muldrew said. "There are at least two dozen loft apartments in the downtown area, and they are all rented. There is a tremendous demand for those, and they appear to be an investment that pays off."
       Muldrew said there are two tenets underpinning a new era of revitalization.
       "First, we are proposing that a Statesboro Downtown Master Plan be developed," he said. "That plan involves a study of the downtown area which would detail a downtown needs assessment, a downtown market analysis, and a look at a preferred downtown design for building. This master plan would work hand-in-hand with the Unified Planned Development Code."
       Muldrew said it is difficult to attract investors into downtown unless you have a very clear picture of its general demographics and mapping, building property inventory, traffic and circulation, utilities, administration and codes, and public assets.
       "In doing the assessment, we can then have a very good sense of what would work and what would be beneficial," he said. "At that point, we will have the information necessary to attract investors, as well as forging public/private partnerships for development."
       When Muldrew spoke in front of the Statesboro Rotary Club this past Tuesday, he touched on many of the events that have blossomed in downtown over the past year. "From the Farmer's Market to First Friday, we are really getting steady crowds for these events," he said. "We just need to get our storefronts filled back up."
       Even with increased traffic downtown on event days, many residents are concerned with the 12 empty stores/restaurants lining the first few blocks of the four main streets. DSDA board member and local attorney Charles Brown said its time for residents to speak out about the streetscape project.
       "I think it is great that we have put in a new streetscape on East Main, but that is just one street out of the four main streets," he said. "We need to encourage our city leaders to complete the streetscape on all of the main streets, and to do it now. I have been in much smaller towns with far fewer resources, and their downtowns have been redone and revitalized. Once voters, taxpayers, and constituents feel it is important, maybe something will be done."
       Brown isn't the only board member to bring his case to the public as it were. Debra Chester, the board member who spearheaded the development of the Main Street Farmers Market remains very passionate about a prosperous downtown Statesboro.
       "We have some very creative, astute, and successful people in this community," she said. "I am encouraging you to put on your thinking caps about filling up every nook and cranny in downtown. We are facing a little adversity right now, and adversity is said to be opportunity."
       While efforts are being made to bring investment and development into downtown, there are firm plans in place to build a dog park on city property. This dog park will be located off of the Willie McTell Trail behind the Shoney's restaurant.
       "There are a number of communities that have dog parks," he said. "They are great places to gather and visit, and residents just love them. This is something that we are definitely going to do."
       Allen Muldrew, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, top, takes in the view from a loft apartment on West Main Street while a welder assembles the railing to a stairway.Muldrew said he really feels that the Blind Willie McTell Trail is a tremendous asset for the city. "It is beautiful, and the benches along the trail are just wonderful. We are looking at doing some things, including the dog park that will encourage more people to use it. Right now we have to pick the ‘low hanging fruit' so-to-speak, and use the assets that we have while we plan and put things in place for a prosperous future."