The top economic focus in the near future involves the expansion of the number of hotel rooms in the business core along with the development of additional loft housing.
The downtown master plan developed by the Fanning Institute at the University of Georgia identified five areas to address in the one-year strategy: improving the look of vacant storefronts, working more closely with the Historic Preservation Commission, streamlining the process for opening a new business, upper-story development and business recruitment.
DDA Director Ann Arnold said she is working right now with three retail prospects to fill vacancies.
“We pretty much have a 90-percent ‘yes’ from one, but they are looking at coming later in the year,” Arnold said. “The other two could happen much sooner.”
The DDA agreed to accept a $100,000 Georgia Cities Fund loan from the Department of Community Affairs for use by the Historic DeSoto Theatre Foundation.
The loan is part of a $250,000 project that will involve interior renovations to the theater. Arnold said much of the upgrade would involve improvements to the seating in the old theater, along with painting and other related work.
Ann Pullen, the design committee chair, said the panel will renew its emphasis on its plaque program, which highlights many of the historic buildings in the downtown business district. The plaques provide information about the history of the building.
“We are working to try to get that back on track this year,” she said.
Steve White, who chairs the business development committee, said one of his committee’s goals is to get the word out about financing options available to prospective business owners — for company start-ups and to improve the look of their properties.
Also, the downtown district will soon have its own website, reported promotion committee chairman Jay Shell. “There are a lot of events going on downtown, right here in our district,” he said. “I feel it’s important for people to have easy access to that information.”
Arnold said the site would be more narrowly focused than the Rome and Floyd County joint website.
“It wouldn’t be just about activities,” she said. “It would be able to list all of our businesses. … It’s not just about the calendar.”
Parking committee chairman Alice Herring said work on the Midtown Transit parking lot should be completed in March. When that is finished, Parking Manager Becky Smyth will devote attention to plans for the lot on East First Street directly behind Harvest Moon.
Swift & Finch Coffee on Broad Street will host the Feb. 22 Downtown Coffee Break for merchants.