The Downtown Development Authority works to assure the long-term economic stability of downtown Decatur by maintaining the small town character of the district and supporting values that assure Decatur is a great place to live, work, play, invest and do business.
The Decatur Downtown Development Authority is a seven-member board of directors appointed by the Decatur City Commission to serve as advocates and advisors to the Commission on issues related to economic growth and development in downtown Decatur. The DDA works to attract business to the downtown area and provides technical support to assure that existing businesses achieve their potential. The DDA actively markets the City of Decatur and works to strengthen the small town character of the community. The DDA works with its partners at Decatur City Hall and in the Decatur Business Association to provide a bridge between the business and residential communities and city government for the benefit of the entire City of Decatur.
The DDA program is modeled after the National Trust for Historic Preservation's successful National Main Street Program. The Main Street Program provides a comprehensive approach to the economic revitalization of the historic commercial center of a community. While based upon a commitment to the preservation of historic commercial buildings, the Main Street Program is as much about preserving a strong sense of community as it is about preserving buildings. Main Street is based on four central program elements that form the basis for the Decatur downtown development program.
Organization involves building a downtown support group that is well represented by business and property owners, bankers, citizens, public officials, chambers of commerce and other local economic development organizations. Everyone must work together to renew downtown. A strong organization provides the stability to build and maintain a long-term effort.
The coordinator in the Main Street approach is the local project manager or downtown development director. He/she forms the organization base of support, introducing members of the community to their own overlooked advantages, showing methods of restoration, rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse that have been successful in similar towns. The manager helps them coordinate their efforts, explaining that the program is a self-help approach, depending largely on broad-based support.
All segments of the community must be made to understand that downtown needs a voice to speak out, telling the story of the historic central business area. They must know the importance of that voice in promoting downtown as a center for retail and business, and also for special events and celebrations. That unified voice asks the county and city for help in problem solving on major issues, such as parking. It establishes working relationships among downtown merchants, property owners, and all other groups and offers management to the group. Egos and "turf" must be put aside as all stakeholder groups come together to work on an agreed upon set of goals for the downtown district.
Once the community becomes a cohesive, cooperative unit, the downtown begins to solve its problems and once again competes in the marketplace as a center for retail and business.
Promotion creates excitement downtown. Street festivals, parades, retail events, and image development campaigns are some of the ways downtown encourages customer traffic. Promotion involves marketing an enticing image to shoppers, investors, and visitors.
Calling the community's attention to downtown and changing any negative attitudes requires promotional techniques designed to foster a positive image. Downtown must be shown as a vital, exciting place where things are happening. Advertising downtown as a center of social and economic activity is one of our main objectives.
A schedule of events, planned well in advance and supported by all downtown groups, will maintain the consistency needed to establish and maintain the downtown credibility. Constant visibility is of vital importance.
There are three basic categories of downtown promotion: image promotions, joint merchandising, and special events promotion. Image promotions include slide shows, institutional advertising, logos, business directories, calendars, and shopping bags. These should be done with professional quality. Joint merchandising promotions create activity and demand. They require voluntary participation by a majority of the merchants who should also adopt an advertising format. Special events have a community-wide impact. Holiday events, Beach Party and the July Fourth celebration improve community attitudes and promote downtown as a friendly place to return for other things. Creating community pride and connection to the downtown district helps strengthen a sense of community and generates a market for downtown business growth.
Design enhances the attractiveness of the business district. Historic building rehabilitation, street and alley clean-up, colorful banners, landscaping, and lighting all improve the physical image of the downtown as a quality place to shop, work, walk, invest in and live. Design improvements result in a reinvestment of public and private dollars in downtown.
Because buildings have been altered in a variety of ways, particularly over the past 30 years, removal of the incompatible elements and enhancement of original ones can be a dramatic way of achieving visible results in a downtown revitalization program. It has been a common misunderstanding that because historic preservation is central to our approach, we propose to restore downtown areas to the appearance of one particular earlier era. That is not the case. Downtowns have evolved over decades, one building at a time. It is important to maintain the vitality of downtown inherent in the different styles of architecture and materials and the range of tastes and levels of prosperity they represent. Our design philosophy is that good design can exist in any period, the past or the present.
Economic restructuring involves analyzing current market forces to develop long-term solutions. Recruiting new businesses, creatively converting unused space for new uses, and sharpening the competitiveness of Main Street's traditional merchants are examples of economic restructuring activities.
The economic restructuring segment of our downtown program has as its goal to strengthen the downtown economy to assure that existing businesses are retained and thrive and that new commercial endeavors are successfully recruited. The fundamental recognition is that for new money to come downtown, or for old money to stay downtown, there must be a way to both show a profit and be secure.
Merchant and shopper surveys, retail market studies, and other studies help to determine the strengths and weaknesses of downtown. From this data collection comes a realistic idea of downtown potential. A list of desired business types and a list of available buildings and spaces should be made and then put in order of importance. When we establish priorities, we look for businesses that will fill a gap in the tenant mix, occupy a key building, complement existing businesses and generate traffic downtown. Having a solid plan and the necessary data to support business recruitment efforts allows us to take advantage of unanticipated opportunities.
Our economic restructuring includes a commitment to a well-balanced development strategy. A healthy downtown should include commercial, retail, restaurant and residential uses. Private businesses should exist along with government services, non-profit organizations, institutions, retail and restaurant uses and downtown residents. A well designed downtown is one in which pedestrian connections are easily made and reliance on automobiles is minimized.
For more information contact Lyn Menne, Community & Economic Development Director at 404-371-8386 or email Lyn.Menne@decaturga.com.