Main Street celebrates 20th year

Published 5:54 pm Friday, April 15, 2011

If the statues in Willis Park could talk, they’d probably have a lot to say about the comings and goings of historic downtown Bainbridge.

Friday, April 15, was the 20th anniversary of Bainbridge’s Main Street program. Bainbridge is one of Georgia’s Main Street Communities, a program created by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Office of Downtown Development.

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There have been several notable milestones of historic preservation and restoration efforts in Bainbridge, said Amanda Glover, director of the city government’s Community Development Division.

There was the amazing transformation of the historic Bon Air Hotel, which overlooks Willis Park on Water Street. Hal and Priscilla Carter of Sylvester, Ga., bought the building, which was on the brink of demolition in 1998, and restored it into luxurious apartments and ground-level shops. The Bon Air celebrated its 100th anniversary in September 2001.

Other large-scale projects included the SPLOST-funded restoration of the Decatur County Courthouse on Water Street, rehabilitation of the Callahan Building on Broad Street into upscale apartments by businessman Derek Martin, and the $1 million renovation of the Firehouse Center and Gallery.

Some other projects include the renovation of the Bainbridge Little Theatre on Troup Street, the restoration of Attorney Ben Kirbo’s office at 108 E. Broughton St. and the DDA’s own Water Street Project.

The Water Street Project involved the renovation of most of the buildings on the 300 block of Water Street at a cost of $927,000. Construction on the Water Street project began in 1998 after the City of Bainbridge accepted the DDA’s proposal to utilize 10 buildings for economic redevelopment.

In the recent past, visitors to Bainbridge could have seen the fruits of the Water Street Project in businesses like a bakery, a restaurant, the offices of engineer Jim York and Associates, a hair salon and a children’s clothing shop.

Since then, the DDA has purchased the old Nelson Piano Building and the old Kwilecki Hardware building, later occupied by the Fixture Exchange.

More gradual restorations have included the site where a bank, and later, Bainbridge Pharmacy, were located. Now the home of a hair salon and dance studio, the restoration of the old bank building uncovered its original marble façade.

A little history

The local Main Street program has been certified by the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 2003. Bainbridge’s national commercial and residential historical districts were formed in the 1980s. A local historic district with expanded boundaries was formed in 2005. At the same time, Bainbridge’s Historic Preservation Commission was created and given the duty of evaluating requests to change the appearance of homes and businesses within the historic district.

Bainbridge has actually had two distinct Downtown Development Authorities, according to Glover. The first was formed in the early 1980s. A group including the late former Mayor Bill K. Reynolds, Sam Griffin Jr., Roslyn Palmer, Harry Handsford, Monroe Godwin, Sammy Gray and Bill Jones.

People like the late Raymond Miles, Godwin, Al and Marilyn Collins and Buster Bolton were all instrumental in the creation of the second DDA, which was activated in 1993, two years after the creation of Bainbridge’s Main Street program. It still meets monthly today and continues the mission of revitalizing downtown Bainbridge.

Georgia’s Main Street program

Its motto is “Downtown Revitalization within the Context of Historic Preservation.”

Georgia Main Street Communities adhere to the guiding principles of the Main Street approach to downtown revitalization: Investment in professional downtown management; working comprehensively in four areas (organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring), and preservation of historic buildings and places.

The Georgia Main Street program is[nggallery id=65]