New downtown: Plausible plan, or pipe dream?

There is a lot of excitement in the air these days, especially within a core group of folks who feel that, with a little outside help and a lot of community support, downtown Atmore can be restored to its past glory.

The feeling is that a professional community planner, paid partly with $15,000 seed money from Delta Regional Authority, can bring in enough good ideas that downtown revitalization is almost a given.

While I and numerous others feel that the present movement is a strong and sincere one, don’t bet the entire back 40 on the plan’s success. Does the current plan have plausibility? Or is it just another pipe dream that will fade with the slightest breeze?

You’re probably thinking, “Hey! This guy hasn’t lived here but two years; what does he know about the hustle and bustle that made downtown Atmore a small-scale mecca for shoppers, diners and those who just wanted to see which of their neighbors also went to town?” And you’re right.

All I know is what I’ve heard and read about the halcyon days of downtown Atmore and other efforts to bring that era, or a close perception of that era, back to the community.

I am told that through the years there have been initiatives launched, meetings held, committees formed and studies conducted with one goal in mind — the revitalization or beautification of the depressed downtown business area. Interest, initially at a fever-pitch, eventually waned, then fizzled out completely.
And, as a local businessman reportedly said, “Every study has ended up on a shelf somewhere.”

Some say that the latest effort, spearheaded by Pride of Atmore Committee, has something that none of the others did — a dynamic driving force behind it.

Bob Jones, president of United Bank and now a member of the U.S. Treasury’s Community Advisory Board, indicated during a recent interview that small towns must have people like the members of the Pride of Atmore Committee.

Mr. Jones referred to television’s The Andy Griffith Show in pointing out that such an effort, as well as the continued existence of small towns across the country, including Atmore, must have that force behind it. The local bank executive stated succinctly that we need fewer complainers and rock-throwers, like Ernest T. Bass, and more Andy Taylors.

The dream of busy downtown sidewalks, of unique shopping experiences and of a thriving downtown business community has been enhanced by the recent opening of the only “fine dining” establishment in the downtown area, as well as the addition of several small businesses and shops whose owners have taken a cautious step forward by gambling that the downtown restoration effort is going to work. The only way these investments can be justified is through a concerted effort to bring people and their money back into the area.

Events like Ribs on Ridgeley and Music on Main have nudged people toward the downtown area. Whether or not they’ll come back is still to be seen.

If the new excitement lingers and the effort is worked to its fullest, the plan can come to fruition. If, as in the past, the interest level can’t be maintained, this plan, too, is destined for the cobwebs and dust of the proverbial shelf that houses the pipe dreams of the past.