Our day of destruction caused by Hurricane Michael on October 10, 2018 changed all of our lives.
The morning after that afternoon and evening of terror I walked outside to a shocking scene of the storm’s aftermath and I am not embarrassed to say that I sat down in the middle of the debris – in the middle of Cherry Street – and cried like a baby. The shock of it all and the fact that everything we had accomplished in the four previous years to make our community even better – had, seemingly at that moment – all been erased.
I was sad. And I was mad.
We have made tremendous strides in our recovery since then, but as you all know, we still have a very long way to go.
We can’t fix all of our problems all at once and it will take time to fully recover and get used to our new normal, but in the meantime we all need more positive sights to look at and to smile about. We need one or two fully restored community places to inspire us and to make each of us just feel better.
Over the past year, daughter interests have taken me into TWO special communities in southeast Georgia – and in those communities, I saw similar visions that I think we need to seriously consider. I was given tours by the City of Brunswick and City of Darien’s Chamber organizations of their downtown areas. The historic sections of Brunswick and Darien have become two jewels to visit in that area of the state. But they have not always been so, and in fact, not so very long ago, each area was not a pleasant and inviting place to visit at all.
Just two short years ago, parts of these cities were literally crumbling. Buildings were vacant, falling down and the entire area was not a place you would want to be in daylight, and definitely not after dark. Citizens and governmental groups in both of these towns got together and developed a plan to change things.
They formed action committees that included the owners of EACH and EVERY structure in the designated areas. Together with those property owners they decided to transform their world.
They knew that no one was going to come in and relocate or open a business in a building that was either in disrepair or falling down. So, they shifted their efforts – from trying to fill the spaces with enterprising retail shops – to developing the area into a desired destination for the current residents of the community to utilize and enjoy.
They began by getting all of the area’s property owners on board with the plan. Each building’s owner was assigned a specific group of people to work with and to search out options and funding to facilitate repair of the building, replacement of the broken glass and to prepare the building’s storefront to become a desired destination attraction. To complement the few open businesses along the avenues, EACH and EVERY empty building in the designated areas was pre planned to become a sidewalk or walk-in museum or art gallery. Area artists and history buffs were called into action to make that happen. Lighting and sidewalk music were added. Trees were brought in and strategically placed green spaces were created. AND each of the vacant storefronts also showcased attractive signage – advertising the space as a potential investment opportunity or as the perfect new location for someone’s dream business.
Entertainment events were scheduled on the streets and the whole area of these two cities took on a new and exciting life.
As the saying goes, If you build it, they will come, and it definitely worked for Brunswick and Darian. They built it and the people came – IN DROVES.
The two areas have now become such popular places for people to visit, to be entertained, to enjoy the history and art exhibitions and to visit with friends and family.
Businesses who saw the new and increased attractions of the area began to take advantage of the for rent and for sale signs in the vacant buildings and today, in the designated areas in both of these cities, there is NOT ONE vacant building and each area has become a desired destination for locals and out of towners as well.
We can do that exact same thing right here in Donalsonville. What are we waiting for? Let’s face it. We are not going to fill up our broken and falling down buildings with attractive businesses. We need to fix all of our problem areas FIRST, and then work together to create a reason for wanting to make all of the above happen – just like they successfully did in downtown Brunswick and Darien.
Let’s start with building a new city park and transforming downtown’s historic fire station into a cultural center, art gallery, museum and event venue – for all of us to enjoy.
Teamwork makes the dream work. Join the team!
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