“You can come downtown and be entertained,” said Downtown Development Director Ann Arnold. “But what we have doesn’t fit the stereotypical description of an entertainment district.”
Jay Shell, owner of 333 on Broad and the new Brewhouse Music and Grill, located within walking distance of one another in the 300 block of Broad Street, said anyone living in the Rome area, whether they’re looking for a night of live music, an evening in the park, shopping, eating at restaurants, or just walking around, that can all be found along Broad Street.
“Whether it’s called an entertainment district or not, that’s really what it is,” Shell said.
The Brewhouse Music and Grill celebrated its grand opening last night with a fundraiser for Congressman Tom Graves featuring the Mighty Tams. More than 300 people attended that event that was followed by a reunion of the Model High School classes of ’91 and ’92.
Shell said Broad Street has evolved into something unique and special.
“Broad Street has become a destination, something that was envisioned years ago,” Shell said recently, and then addressing Arnold, “You didn’t leave it alone, but you’ve worked hard and everything has just evolved into where it’s a good mesh. On a Friday or Saturday night there may be seven places that have music playing on Broad Street.”
“It seems that everything has just fallen into place,” said Rome City Commissioner Bill Collins.
Arnold said the downtown Broad Street corridor still has to be a place for people to live, where there are families.
“You can’t have a vibrant downtown without having a strong residential component,” said Arnold. “In my mind the stereotypical entertainment district and residential don’t mesh and we’ve experienced some of that in past.”
Collins agreed, pointing out that he has not heard a lot of negative comments about nightlife in downtown Rome since the Peach Palace closed. He said downtown Rome, at this point in time, is in a good place because there is a great mix.
“I think it lends itself to opportunities for the college scene,” Collins said. “These people are now beginning to come downtown.”
Not that anyone will ever mistake Broad Street for Washington Street in Athens. Arnold makes it very clear that it is not her desire, or that of city officials, for Broad Street to fill that stereotypically bar district image.
“Can we have that somewhere adjacent to downtown? Absolutely. But why not allow downtown to be something bigger and better?” Arnold said. “Let it be what it is, with things like a brew pub, by having 20 varieties of restaurants, by having a Schroeder’s that got its own little courtyard in the back for music, or a 333 that’s got an upstairs music venue, the Moon Roof, it’s so unique.”
Arnold said that clearly people could come downtown and be entertained.
“They don’t have to come downtown and go to a bar and get drunk,” she said.
Amusement means money
Entertainment is also a considerable added expense for Rome businesses. Broad Street businesses that have been approved for entertainment include LaScala, Mellow Mushroom, Johnny’s New York Style Pizza, 333 on Broad, LaMarie’s, Old Havana, Schroeder’s, AYF Grill (now closed) and the Harvest Moon Café. The Brewhouse Music and Grill will obtain an entertainment license before it opens to the public.
The restaurants pay an extra fee to the city, ranging from $100 to $1,785.
Any establishment that features music also pays a licensing fee to Broadcast Music Incorporated, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, and Society of European Stage Authors and Composers. Each of the organizations collect fees on behalf of songwriters and publishers and their right to be compensated for having their music performed in public.
Shell said the royalty-related licensing fees that he pays for 333 on Broad will more than double at the Brewhouse Music and Grill. The two together could easily exceed $25,000 annually.
Collins said that the rowdy element associated with the stereotypical entertainment venue is something that leaders, and the Average Joe alike, have been afraid of.
“It’s this mix of how Broad Street has evolved that has made this a success, and I think we’re headed in a good direction,” Collins said.
Next week the Downtown Development Authority’s Visioning Committee will meet with the University of Georgia Fanning Institute’s Danny Bivins, who has been overseeing the development of a strategic master plan for the Broad Street community. Bivins will present some preliminary recommendations from his study team.
“I think that (the master plan) was one of the best investments we could have made,” Collins said. “I think once it’s unveiled it’s going to be something that Rome is going to be very proud of.”
It’s not clear when the final version of the plan will be submitted to local leaders, however, the Downtown Development Authority plans to use its regular meeting in October for 2013 planning purposes.
Living, shopping downtown
For the last several years much of the attention on downtown Rome has been focused on the residential aspect, converting second-story stores or either vacant first floor retail units into apartments.
In fact, Rome will host a conference along with the Department of Community Affairs during the last weekend of October that will highlight the development of residential space. Forrest Place, Etowah Village and several independent loft dwellings will be highlighted during the conference that is expected to draw nearly 100 downtown developers from across the state.
A focus group session in 2011 involving more than 30 community leaders also indicated that a diversification of the retail base in downtown Rome was also something that needed attention. Many folks in Rome would be happy if the merchants that are located in downtown Rome, aside from the restaurants, stayed open a little later in the evening.
“They’re independent businesses, people have got to go home sometime,” Arnold said. “I think it is possible for us to get to a Thursday, Friday late opening.”
She said the First Friday Block Party offered proof positive that merchants can do business while special events are taking place.
“There has been a mindset, not only in Rome but in all downtowns, with many of the merchants that if you’ve got an event, you close your doors and go home,” Arnold said. “Well, that’s not true, and we’ve got to change that mindset. The First Friday event helped to do that. Businesses that were open saw it, experienced it, and know now that they can take advantage of those opportunities.”
It’s taken a while, but city officials believe downtown Rome seems to have hit upon the right recipe for entertainment. A diversity of interesting places to shop, plenty of choices for an evening repast, complete with libation choice, along with an acoustic guitar or rock and roll band.
“We are different and unique, and we can continue to be that,” Arnold said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”