City officials are starting to talk about retail developments as the economy begins to inch back.
City staff met with Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce officials for initial conversations, which included ideas to enhance the downtown area and create a comprehensive development plan.
"We talked about any retail opportunities they see or what we need to do to position ourselves when the economy does turn around," said City Manager Kip Padgett. "One of the thoughts was a development plan, whereas we would work with a consultant to identify what type of retail fits different areas of the city. We'll explore that in coming months."
Although the economy isn't back on its feet just yet, officials thought creating a plan should be top priority.
"Things are certainly not as good as they were, but it's looking a little brighter," Padgett said. "I wouldn't say we're back to normal by any means, but we're seeing a few glimmers of sunlight, and we want to be ready when things do turn around."
Mayor Ruth Bruner and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan attended the meetings with Padgett and shared ideas about making retail a priority over other developments.
"A lot of people are knocking on the chamber's door, and it's very exciting, especially with what we've been through financially. We need to get a head start and get going," Dunagan said Thursday. "We want to take an inventory of what we have, what we'd like to have and what we've got to offer."
One aspect is downtown living. With construction of the Midtown greenway and the pedestrian bridge just around the corner, officials want another way to entice people to the downtown area.
"It's helpful for merchants, and it makes the downtown area more viable," Dunagan said. "The mixed-use, owner-occupied building gives a community feel."
During the council's Oct. 28 work session, council member Myrtle Figueras pushed for retail development along the Highway 129 South corridor. Other areas likely to see development are Dawsonville Highway, Oakwood and Flowery Branch, said Kit Dunlap, Chamber of Commerce president.
"What we've been doing to promote development is pretty extensive, and now we're talking about what we can do for the future," she said. "We're not talking individual store fronts here. These are new retail areas and comprehensive plans, which could include green space and downtown housing."
City and chamber officials want to add to the success of recently bringing Michael's and Ulta stores to the area.
"We're a little under-retailed in Hall County, and retail development can be an improvement to the quality of life, helping those of us who live here to have more choices for shopping in our own community," said Tim Evans, the chamber's vice president of economic development. "It helps create jobs, and the retail dollars help fund infrastructure and education right here in our community.
The more opportunities we create for Hall County residents and residents of the surrounding region to shop in Hall County, that's more revenue."