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Brewton may regroup on 'Main Street'

By By LYDIA GRIMES – Staff Writer
A meeting was held this week to discuss the possibility of re-establishing the Alabama Main Street Program in Brewton. The project was started here some years ago, but was never brought to completion.
The Alabama Main Street Program is a downtown restoration and maintenance effort that focuses on historic preservation and downtown revitalization. The program was designed for small cities with a population of 50,000 or less. It seeks to maintain the historical qualities while promoting marketing and retail businesses. Main Street is administered by the Alabama Historical Commission and is based on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's successful attempt to promote the economic development of the older central business districts.
Many towns have seen a decline in downtown businesses as a result of competing shopping centers and the changes in shopping habits. This has sometimes brought about a downtown with vacant buildings, deteriorated storefronts and declining sales. Through Main Street, cities are committing themselves to the historic and economic value of their communities. In these cities, public and private resources are being brought together to develop plans to revitalize and build a positive downtown identity.
Current participating cities in the statewide network include Alexander City, Anniston, Decatur, Dothan, Florence, Gadsden, Greenville, Opelika, Selma and Winfield. These cities reported a combined 1,313 new businesses, 4,722 new jobs, $126,506,747 in public improvements in downtown areas and $282,828,204 in private sector investments in building rehabilitations. The committee is now working to establish programs in Eufaula and Ozark.
The meeting was set to determine the process of the revitalization of the downtown area in Brewton.
Andrew C. Gerachis, state coordinator of the Alabama Main Street Program; Alta Cassady, grants coordinator, and Trina Binkley attended the meeting. Along with Mayor Ted Jennings, members of the city council and interested parties, the group was probing to see if there would be an interest in revitalizing the project.
The answer was a resounding yes. It is not a project that would take place overnight and it would entail a lot of work, but the state agencies are available to help with grants, information and contacts to help get it going.
During a working lunch, slides were shown of another similar project in North Carolina. It was demonstrated as to how a street or building might look today and how it would look after restoration.
The Alabama State Registry can be a first step to having an area placed on the National Registry of Sites and there were a lot of suggestions put forth as to how Brewton could take advantage of available talent and grants to go with what the private sector would be have to do.
When asked to compare Brewton to other prospective towns, Binkley said, "Downtown Brewton is clean. It is cleaner than a lot of other places that we have looked at."
Cassady told the group many grants and tax incentives were available to make the process easier.
Gerachis stressed that it would take commitment and organization to get the project off the ground.
Another individual at the meeting was Carol Gordy, a downtown business owner.
On Nov. 1 and 2, there will be a conference in Valley, Ala. and attendees will be able to obtain more information. The representatives of the Alabama Historical Commission encouraged a group to go to those cities named above and see what can be done to bring the life back into downtown areas. They are not excluding residential areas from being a part of the Main Street Project.