By Adam Smith
For the past several months, officials in Athens have been working toward a means to differentiate their town from others across the state.
And while some may argue there’s no such thing as bad press, officials have recently enjoyed a steady stream of good press with announcements of new and expanding industries while other towns struggle to stay afloat. Athens has also been name-checked by several national music magazines in feature stories on up-and-coming local band, Alabama Shakes.
Last year, the city moved forward with a community image building campaign aimed at exploiting Athens’ strengths and improving weaknesses. Officials hired urban planning firm Arnett Muldrow & Associates to design new logos and signs to be used by the city and businesses that would appeal to residents and visitors.
Though some of the logos have been revealed, the full package of materials will be formally released within the next few weeks. City Planner Mac Martin, who has led the campaign, said some organizations are already making plans on how to utilize the materials.
He said downtown revitalization group Spirit of Athens is pricing new downtown banners for the Courthouse Square. The Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce and Department of Human Resources are also making plans to begin utilizing their new logos. The city has also updated its community image through new welcome signs on U.S. 31 and U.S. 72.
This week, city workers placed stone around the base of the signs to improve the overall look. The city also plans to install a new secondary gateway sign near the Exit 351 interchange.
“All of the organizations that have adopted their new brands are looking at banners, letterheads, business cards, bumper stickers, shirts, sweaters, advertisements and other means of communicating their new images,” Martin said “All of their individual brands play off of the community image.”
The end to the means is to have an image for the community that communicates individuality that sets the city apart from its neighbors. He said the project is meant to create a symbol that instills pride in the community, serves as a marketing tool to draw tourists, new residents and shoppers and gives the city a level of name recognition that allows it to compete for development.
“The project also serves as a unique opportunity for the city and various organizations in the community to pull together and unify our efforts in promoting all that Athens has to offer,” he said. “I believe that having a coalition comprised of the city and several organizations representing multiple interests utilizing one system of marketing tools sends a powerful message to those looking into locating here or visiting us — that we have a spirit of cooperation and a team oriented approach to bettering our community.”
Last fall, the city received $15,000 through a 2012 Legislative Tourism Grant for 12 wayfinding signs that will guide residents and visitors to destinations around Athens. State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, was able to locate an additional $10,000 for the project out of a TVA in-lieu-of tax payments allocation.
Orr said the city’s project was one he could support because with the sluggish economy, it is “important to get people to spend money in the local community.”
The signs will be placed on state highways and local streets to direct residents and visitors to the city’s districts, including downtown, Athens State University and recreational areas. Most of the signs will be installed on U.S. 31 and U.S. 72, though the city will have to receive approval from ALDOT to place the signs on state routes.
Martin said the wayfinding signs would first be installed on local streets and could be in place over the next month or two.
In the meantime, he said the city would continue to work on ways to get the name of Athens out to more visitors. He said the combination of a proposed update to the city’s website and the hiring of spokesperson Holly Hollman would also help spread the word about the city.
“We now have someone on board who is very savvy in utilizing the latest communications mediums in getting our identity across to those researching our community,” Martin said. “I think the next step in developing recognition of our identity by out-of-towners is to get the image out there and in use in a variety of ways.”