The city of Jefferson has recently been upgraded from a Better Hometown to a Main Street community by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
The Georgia Main Street Program was started by the DCA in 1980 as a way to improve economic development and to boost revitalization in the downtown commercial districts all across the state. The program, based on principles established by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, focuses on "economic development through downtown revitalization, heritage preservation and restoring a sense of place."
"We have been a Better Hometown community since 2001," said Beth Laughinghouse, Jefferson Main Street program manager.
"The main difference between the two programs is a higher population count."
Among other things, in order to qualify as a Main Street participant, areas must have a population above 5,000; Better Hometown is for areas with fewer than 5,000 residents.
"There are quite a few advantages to being a part of the Main Street Program," Laughinghouse said.
"The DCA really provides us with a wealth of information."
Through the program, the DCA provides participants with access to expert technical assistance and various funding resources. Among other things, the DCA provides design assistance, market analysis and recruitment of retail and commercial businesses.
DCA administrators also provide information to Main Street participants about how to find grant funding for revitalization projects.
"The support that is available through the Main Street Program is amazing. Any town can do improvements without being a part of the program, but by being a participant you can make one phone call and be put in contact with all the help you need," Laughinghouse said. "For instance, we were looking to renovate a building downtown, instead of making a bunch of calls, I made one call to the DCA and had all of the references that I needed."
Currently, there are more than 100 Better Hometown and Main Street communities across the state.
Gainesville has been a participant in the Main Street Program since 1995.
In order to maintain Main Street accreditation, communities must maintain local support, keep a program manager on staff and complete an annual assessment of the program.
If a community fails to meet the program’s minimum standards, their participation status can be revoked or suspended.