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Ga. task force to help develop downtowns
Group wants to improve areas and suggest legislation for plans
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A statewide task force on downtowns may find a way to help Gainesville's square pull through the economic downturn.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Georgia Cities Foundation President Mike Starr, the co-chairmen of the task force, met at the end of April to discuss how to put a yearlong study of downtowns into action.

During 2010, the Georgia Municipal Association and Georgia Cities Foundation worked with the University of Georgia's Fanning Institute on the study, which included focus group sessions with stakeholders and research about different downtowns.

Gainesville was one of 14 downtowns used as a case study.

"They wanted to get a good feel of downtown Gainesville and what we need for assistance," said Main Street manager Angela Thompson. "Downtowns need a vision, a plan and leadership, and they are economic engines that create jobs and affect the community."

Downtowns are already required to submit vision and strategic plans to the state, but the task force could help downtowns to develop the plans further.

"They're also looking at how to make investing in downtowns more attractive to banks," said Amy Henderson, public information manager with the Georgia Municipal Association. "The task force wants to talk about what the state can do to aid cities with downtown development and what legislation would help."

The Georgia Municipal Association will host a presentation and panel discussion on the task force findings at its annual convention on June 27.

Officials will dig into state policies that hinder downtown development, including those on transportation, streetscapes and building codes.

"We want to work with state agencies to establish policies and procedures to strengthen our downtowns," Starr said. "Downtown is where economic development takes place, and a greater emphasis on them as our economic engines is needed at the state level."

One focus of the task will include downtowns that have the potential to be viable or want to remain strong.

"The fact is that not all downtowns are destined for success," Starr said. "But in many cases, even small, sleepy downtowns can turn things around if a major industry or business takes an interest in the downtown.

The goal for the task force is to offer ideas for how those cities can get ready to succeed, keeping in mind that not all policies will work in every city."

Gainesville stakeholders are particularly interested in how the task force will involve the banking industry and give incentives for lending money for downtown projects.

"Those financial resources are really important for downtowns because the cookie cutter financial scenario for loans to fund strip malls does not apply to a historic downtown," Thompson said. "Showing the financial institutions that there are incentives for investing and keeping historic buildings is important. There is a place for that type of investing."

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