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New vision for downtown – Public invited to join community planner Thursday

Bub Gideons and other members of Pride of Atmore Committee are excited about the possibility that downtown Atmore might soon undergo a metamorphosis that will bring shoppers and others back to the city’s once-thriving geographic center.

Having secured one of Delta Regional Authority’s Creative Placemaking Grants, the first tangible proof that the latest downtown revitalization plan could bear fruit will come on Thursday, December 7, when Zachary Mannheimer, the man charged with formulating the plan, will be in town for a special get-acquainted lunch meeting.

“It’s a community-wide meeting, and the public is invited,” Gideons said of the gathering, which will take place at noon inside the historic Strand Theatre. “Zack is a principal community planner with Iowa-based McClure Engineering, and his whole department is involved in planning and helping folks plan revitalization efforts and finding the money to implement those plans.”

The committee chair added that after several years of second-guessing himself, he can finally look others in the eye with confidence when questioned about the chance of the plan becoming a success.

“I’ve been talking about this for four years and I could not have looked you in the face a year and a half ago or three years ago and told you that I thought chances were good of getting people to come downtown, when all we were selling downtown were lawnmowers and second-hand goods,” he said. “It has been overwhelming at times, looking at our downtown and seeing what all has to be done, but Pride of Atmore has stuck with it.”

Gideons said the DRA grant provided the impetus and the confidence to continue the effort. He praised the work of Foster Kizer, who wrote most of the grant application, and Dale Ash, who helped with the grant application and wrote letters of support.

“I could go on and on,” he said. “A lot of people have played key parts.”

The grant requires the use of culture and arts to fuel revitalization, which is largely dependent upon the reaction of young adults and those who are on the verge of adulthood.

“Where young people go is where everything happens,” said Gideons. “This grant is about using culture to make downtown hip. What we older people know is that there is a lot that we don’t know. What is hip right now? What would high school and college kids come downtown for? That’s what we’re going to be figuring out.”

He pointed out that several small shops, boutiques and other businesses — including the city’s only upscale eating establishment — have opened recently or are preparing to open in the downtown area, especially along Main, Trammell, Church and Ridgeley streets.

“Private business-folks are getting involved, expressing an interest,” he said. “The time is right; the economy has helped. Really, the interest shown by business people and community leaders has pushed it. Like I said, it has been a struggle. I’ve been waiting four years for the miracle to happen. When it finally caught on, it was ‘thank you, Lord.’

“Something has happened organically out there. It’s all positive, and that’s the key.”

“Business people, ‘Old Atmore’ people (longtime residents) and folks who love Atmore but didn’t know there was a path forward downtown, now believe it,” he said. “That has been the spark that we needed.”

Gideons said Mannheimer has told him that the will of the people will shape the final plan, which he hopes won’t go the way of other plans that were abandoned when the initial excitement wore off.

“We’re going to depart from the old-timey ways,” he said. “Zack told us to keep an open mind, that what the people want is how the plan will turn out. So he wants to see what they will support and come to daily. We don’t need one more effort that folks get excited about, then it goes away.”

Gideons said that anyone who had not already been notified of Thursday’s meeting but would like to attend is urged to call him at 251-359-6523 and let him know so that Cindy Colville, who is preparing box lunches for each person in attendance, will have a more accurate head count.