Athens Downtown Revitalization Projects Recognized at Main Street Alabama Conference

Main Street Alabama celebrated local program successes at the ninth annual Awards of Excellence on August 18 at the Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort Hotel & Spa at Grand National in Opelika.

During the Awards of Excellence program, Main Street Alabama’s President and State Coordinator, Mary Helmer Wirth, and Assistant State Coordinator, Trisha Black, honored projects and individuals that made tremendous impacts in their respective communities. Alabama Municipal Electric Authority sponsored the event.

The Awards of Excellence recognized winners in Preservation, Historic Rehabilitation, Fundraising, Public Relations, Public/Private Partnerships, Business Development, Economic Impact, Adaptive Reuse, Promotion, Business Promotion, Marketing, Placemaking, Non-Historic Building Design, and Planning & Public Space. Local Main Street programs also selected a Main Street Hero that honored an individual, business, or organization that made an outstanding contribution to their program.

Main Street Alabama awarded Athens Main Street the following awards:

  • Excellence in Placemaking – A blighted alley in the heart of downtown Athens was transformed into Merchants Alley where people can relax, listen to live musical performances, and enjoy ever-changing art. A celebration of music through art, the alley features five different art components; the Playing the Sound of the Wind mural pays homage to the annual Tennessee Valley Fiddler’s Convention. Across the alley is a portrait of Brittany Howard, a Limestone County native and Grammy winner. Other components include murals to be discovered behind doors painted by local college students, selfie spots, and children’s art windows.  Athens Main Street’s Design Committee members were the recipient of this award. The committee included Tere Richardson, Trisha Black, Denise Williams, Brad Mallette, and Gary Van Wagnen.
  • Excellence in Design – The Optimal Geo Renovation was an adaptive reuse project that converted a set of historic 1930s downtown buildings into a modern commercial workspace for a growing Downtown Athens business. The project enhanced the buildings’ overall performance, quality, & aesthetics by opening up the space, creating multiple indoor/outdoor common areas, restoring original openings to bring natural light deep into the space, bringing the site & buildings up to current code & energy performance standards, and thoroughly modernized the sites’ utilities.   AMBL Studios’ Brad Mallette was the recipient of this award.
  • Excellence in Promotion – Merchants Alley Happy Hour Music Series takes place every Friday night, April 1 to July 29, 2022, and September 2 to November 18 in the newly renovated alleyway on Jefferson Street from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. This gives patrons a great start to their weekend. Each Friday, there is a new performer – allowing for various musical acts. Patrons are encouraged to come early and shop at local merchants and grab a drink in an Entertainment District cup to enjoy. At the same time, you listen to great local music and then stay downtown for a fantastic dinner at one of our local restaurants.  Athens Main Street’s Promotion Committee was the recipient of this award.  The committee included the Event Chair, Jen Baxter, Andrew Dollar, Blake Williams, Devin Simmons, Michelle Williamson, Letisha Brinkley, Amy Higginbotham, and Tere Richardson.
  • Excellence in Marketing – Downtown with Devin Videos.  The Downtown with Devin marketing effort was formed during an Athens Main Street Promotions Committee meeting. Devin Simmons serves on the committee, and we wanted to highlight his passion and energy for our downtown district.  The goal of the video series was to attract a younger, diverse audience to historic downtown Athens to shop and dine. Blake Williams produced the videos featuring Devin Simmons.
  • Main Street Hero Award – Doug Gates passed away on July 1, 2022. He was a tireless community servant. He served as an Athens Main Street Board Member for over ten years. Doug had a vision of what he wanted his beloved downtown to look like, and that was a bustling, thriving, fun place to eat, shop, work, and play. He worked for years to help make that happen, contributing his business sense and smarts to many downtown projects through Athens Main Street.

“Athens Main Street appreciates the recognition of the great strides made toward revitalization in our downtown.  Thank you to those in our community that was so instrumental in the success of these efforts,” said Athens Main Street Executive Director Tere Richardson.

“We celebrated the accomplishments of local Main Street programs,” Wirth said. “These programs represent small rural cities as well as larger, more urban communities. The diversity of these communities makes each one unique, each are working within their own capacity to improve, reinvigorate, and revitalize their downtown or neighborhood commercial districts. We were inspired by local success stories and by the businesses, organizations and individuals who are dedicated to making their communities the best they can be.”

The Awards of Excellence Banquet is a highlight of LAB, a three-day conference that bolsters the efforts of communities participating in the nationally acclaimed Main Street program or those communities interested in district revitalization. The ninth annual event drew over 150 community leaders from Alabama.

Main Street Alabama has 32 Designated Programs and over 43 Network Communities. Alexander City, Anniston, Athens, Atmore, Birmingham’s Historic 4th Ave Business District, Birmingham’s Woodlawn District, Calera, Columbiana, Decatur, Demopolis, Dothan, Elba, Enterprise, Eufaula, Florence, Foley, Fort Payne, Gadsden, Headland, Heflin, Jasper, LaFayette, Leeds, Marion, Monroeville, Montevallo, Opelika, Oxford, Scottsboro, South Huntsville, Talladega, and Wetumpka each have Designated Programs and new communities are added annually. Application workshops are held in January for communities interested in becoming a Designated Program. Until then, communities interested in district revitalization can participate in Main Street Alabama’s Network.

Main Street Alabama focuses on bringing jobs, dollars, and people back to Alabama’s historic communities. Economic development is at the heart of our efforts to revitalize downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.