Alexander City is “on the road to some really good things,” according to Main Street Alexander City Executive Director Stacey Jeffcoat.
After an immersive three-day visit from nonprofit Main Street Alabama, state coordinator for the national Main Street program, a resource team of five experts in the fields of organization, promotions, economic vitality and design offered some insight and proposed suggestions to make what they consider a beautiful downtown, even better.
“The members of the resource refresh team made multiple comments throughout their visit about our downtown being one of the prettiest in the state,” said Jeffcoat. “That’s really something to be proud of. We’re blessed, and we’ve really got to move forward and take advantage of all we have.”
The team interviewed community leaders; organized a vision mapping session for public input; created an online survey for residents to offer feedback; and spent time chatting with business owners and town locals to get a feel for what may be missing. The compilation of these findings and efforts provided a subjective outsider opinion on how to elevate downtown to the next level.
“They saw it through different eyes and thought of things I never would have thought of,” said Jeffcoat.
While some proposed changes would be part of a long-term strategic plan, many minor elements could spruce up the area and bring more life to the historic district.
“I absolutely think there are some feasible changes we can implement immediately; little touches that make people want to come and spend more time downtown,” said Jeffcoat.
Improving some landscaping, adding flowers on the sidewalks, improving already available benches and seating and making Strand Park more visitor-friendly are easy solutions that could have a positive impact.
Jeffcoat said adding some movable seating to Strand Park, along with bringing in some lawn games – such as giant Jenga and corn hole – could increase the foot traffic in that area.
“I think it’d be a cool way to draw in students,” said Jeffcoat. “I think if they had something fun to do, they would hang out.”
During interviews with the community, Main Street Alabama heard a lot of desire for more family-friendly activities, and some of the younger generation said they didn’t feel they were welcome in downtown with little for them to do. Some proposed changes might broaden the demographics of visitors to downtown by expanding offerings.
Trisha Black, field specialist with Main Street Alabama, suggested creating a community toy chest so all city organizations could have access to shared lawn games for events. She also recommended focusing on quality of events over quantity by improving upon what’s already been established.
“We need to re-introduce people to the district and bring in visitors. The town can expand on existing events to bring foot traffic to businesses,” said Black.
Supporting these existing businesses that are already vested in the community is essential for economic vitality, as well, said Jay Schlinsog.
“Recruiting is part of it, but the number one priority is working with those who have already staked claim here and helping them to grow,” he said.
Architect Randy Wilson with Community Design Solutions recommended adding some pops of color in certain areas, including painting benches or adding cushions; creating artwork murals on exterior building walls; and designing crosswalk designations for safety and aesthetics.
“These are just some touches we could make to increase the liveliness and vibrancy of the streetscape to appear more inviting,” said Jeffcoat.
Wilson said focusing on areas such as the rears of buildings and alleyways could also have an impact on aesthetics, especially the way Alexander City’s downtown is arranged. The backs of buildings are exposed in several areas.
Viewing these areas as destinations of their own could provide opportunities for Instagram moments, said Wilson, along with branding alleyways as their own locations to increase possible hangouts. Adding kiosks and signage would help direct visitors to what’s available on certain streets, he said.
“Everything you’ve done here reeks of quality. It’s just about taking good and making it great,” said Wilson.
Main Street Alexander City’s existing grant programs could be adapted to specific storefront needs: signage, alleyways and exposed building backs. These funds could help create a stronger impression, he added.
“Other perceptions from the team turned out to be surprising, such as parking. Everybody seems to think there is a parking problem, but they pointed out that adding signage to indicate parking areas may help – it could be a visual thing,” said Jeffcoat.
Main Street Alexander City already has designed and bought new ‘Welcome to Alexander City’ signs for U.S. Highway 280 and hopes to create matching way-finding signage to be placed in all corridors that lead to town to direct visitors.
“This will be a really big deal. The signs are ordered, and we hope they will be installed soon,” said Jeffcoat. “We need to do some landscaping with them, but we’re excited.”
All of these possible improvements to be implemented by Main Street Alexander City will come from the nonprofit organization’s funds.
“These are all generous donations from people that believe in our mission and support the downtown area. People need to understand that this would not be coming from taxpayer money,” said Jeffcoat.
Aside from the changes, events, designs and organizational implementation for Main Street Alexander City, branding needs to be a significant priority for not only the group but also the town as a whole, said Tripp Muldrow.
“Involve the community in creating its own identity,” said Muldrow. “We need consistency to define Alexander City, not just Main Street.”
By collaborating with the City of Alexander City, Alexander City Chamber of Commerce and the tourism committees, a unique brand could curate the visitor experience and carry through all events, he added.
“In initial conversations, everyone is on board with the branding. When Main Street Alabama comes back to provide a more detailed strategic plan, Tripp and Randy also will help coordinate a brand,” said Jeffcoat. “We’re super excited about this aspect.”
Mary Helmer, Main Street Alabama state coordinator, and Black will return in a few weeks with an extensive plan that will cover more details than the original public presentation the organization gave on the last day of its visit last month. They also will help develop a road map for a long-term strategy.
“With new signs, getting some branding done, adding little touches for atmosphere – we hope we’ll make it a fun place to be. It may make people want to stroll downtown in the evenings, take the dog and kids for a picnic in the park and just enjoy what our town has to offer,” said Jeffcoat.
For more information about Main Street Alexander City and its mission, visit mainstreetalexandercity.org.