The Athens square is not dead, but it’s ailing.
Little, by little businesses are moving out from what used to be the main shopping district of a bustling community. A newly formed group, Spirit of Athens, hopes to restore the square to its former health by pumping new life into business while preserving its historic character.
It’s a tall order, but it’s not like reinventing the wheel. Armed with guidelines from the Main Street Committee, an organization with a four-pronged plan being employed by communities across the nation, the local group is tackling what could be a years-long project.
The four areas—organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring—attacks downtown revitalization on all fronts. Spirit of Athens is now officially a Main Street Committee affiliate. First, the group organized by adopting bylaws based on those of Main Street, chose committee chairpersons in all four areas, elected a 15-member executive board and an advisory board.
Carolyn Crow, owner of Pablo’s on Market, is board chairman. Athens Public Works Director James Rich chairs the economic restructuring committee; Regina Crawford, owner of craft and hobby shop, Crawford’s, chairs promotion; and Carole Foret of Carole Foret Fine Arts, chairs design.
Even before Spirit of Athens officially formed as a Main Street Committee, other organizations in town began efforts to spiff up the downtown. Richard Martin, who has spent nearly 20 years establishing the Rails to Trails project, applied for a state historic grant to place glassed platform plaques on all four sides of the square with photos of original buildings and brief histories.
The Beautification Board and Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful went to the City Council for an appropriation to place planters around the square. Several individuals and organizations have sponsored the purchase of park benches. A few years ago, the city replaced old sidewalks with pebbled walkways as part of the Downtown Project begun by local businessman Carl Hunt in 1995.
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