While the year 2020 will be looked back on as a sour note for a vast majority of people, there were bright spots.
For instance, Athens Main Street helped bring several improvements to The Square downtown, like expanded, permanent outdoor seating areas for restaurants and curbside pickup spaces for businesses.
Now the organization has set its sights on a new “placemaking” project in hopes of creating a unique space for visitors to enjoy.
Athens Main Street announced Wednesday it has partnered with several organizations, including the City Council and Limestone County Commission, to revitalize an alleyway between Terranova's and the Main Street office building.
“Athens Main Street is so excited to announce the construction phase of Merchant's Alley construction project,” said Executive Director Tere Richardson. “Placemaking projects such as this are vital to our downtown spaces. They provide interesting and inviting to sit, gather and actively experience these places.”
Richardson said Athens Main Street's vision is to create a space where “people of all ages can take advantage of the free Wi-Fi downtown, to provide additional outdoor dining, space for impromptu music performances and, most importantly, a place for people to gather and engage with each other.”
She said the alley will include outdoor seating, landscaping and murals along the walls.
“The project will take the alleyway and connect to municipal parking, back to the core of downtown,” she said. “If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that increasing the access to attractive and engaging outdoor spaces is vital for our downtown to continue to thrive. Our downtown is the heart and soul of our city and county.”
The alleyway is owned by Derrick Young, owner of U.G. White Mercantile. Young plans to work with Main Street's team on the project.
“Bringing this alley to life and making it a place to enjoy for all our community will be a real pleasure,” he said. “In naming the alley 'Merchant's Alley,' we wanted to give a nod of respect to all the hardworking business owners that came before and those who currently call The Square home. Without them and their commitment to downtown, the heart of our community would not beat as strong.”
Richardson said the project has been made possible through the public/private partnerships of donated funds and support from several groups and individuals.
Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly and Mayor Ronnie Marks were on hand at the announcement to give their support for the project.
“Growing up in Limestone County, I always thought our Square was the most beautiful around,” Daly said. “Yes, I'm biased. This is my hometown. I go all over the state, and the centerpiece of your community is your Square, and we have a beautiful Square in the downtown area. A lot of towns you go to, the squares are dead and empty.”
“The public/private partnership is vital to any growing community,” Marks said. “As you know, we are a growing community, and it's exciting to see the energy level we have. It's great to be a part of this, and our downtown is the heart and soul of the community.”
Richardson said the project is expected to be completed by this summer.
“When we bring visitors to town, when our kids take pictures for prom or when you have celebrations or parades, we all gather here (downtown),” said Athens Main Street President Shane Black. “Downtown is a special place, and a project like this takes everyone coming together to make it happen.”