Downtown Canton appears to be on the verge of a comeback.
Ginger Garrard, the city’s Main Street director, hopes 2012 will be the year for a downtown resurgence.
Garrard said her primary focus this year will be recruiting new businesses to open up shop in the historic downtown loop.
She plans to roll out a new business incentive as well as a package that will include an inventory of available property and contacts.
“We really need to recruit small businesses,” she said. “It will help so much with the local economy. We’ve got to compete with other cities as well, so we need to out on a limb.”
She also said she hopes to start paid membership for its Main Street program and continue pushing for an urban redevelopment plan for the area.
Phase one of that redevelopment plan would get part of the downtown area designated as an Opportunity Zone by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, which could attract new businesses.
An Opportunity Zone is a developmental tool created in 2004 that allows local governments to provide tax incentives for economic development and revitalization of pockets of poverty.
Garrard also alluded to 2011 as a year of success in Canton. The city saw nine new businesses and 47 new jobs come into downtown.
The downtown area also saw the opening of the Cherokee County History Museum and Visitor’s Center in February.
The museum, which is located on the first floor of the historic courthouse, had more than 2,000 visitors in 2011.
The museum is also preparing to transition to its Black History Month exhibit, which Garrard said will start on Feb. 1.
“It’s really been great,” she said of the visitor’s center and museum. “We’ve been lucky with the volunteers who’ve helped out and it’s growing as a visitor’s center. It’s a great thing.”
The city did experience a setback last year when the United States Postal Service closed its downtown Canton branch during the summer.
USPS merged that office, which only had about three employees, with its RiverStone Boulevard branch, leaving the Jones Building without an occupant.
The building, owned by Cherokee County, had been partially vacant since the county moved its operations out of downtown in late 2008.
Doug Flint, who co-owns a Canton-based real estate rehabilitation and management company, has been managing the Jones Building for the county and said he’s still trying to market the building for a prospective buyer.
Canton’s Main Street program also created Downtown Dollars to encourage shoppers to buy from local businesses and started its First Friday events, which brings live music, food and entertainment to downtown Canton.
Garrard also said last year was a triumph in bringing people into downtown. In 2010, the city had about 16,000 people attending events. That number was close to 35,000 in 2011.
“It’s just building every year,” she said.
Expanding the city’s marketing capabilities and working on public parking is part of downtown Woodstock’s 2012 initiatives.
Billy Peppers, who serves as the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority and the city’s director of economic services, said the city will roll out its first magazine, which will provide an overview of what the city has planned and what it’s accomplished.
He said he hopes the magazine will come out in March.
The city will also hold its first Taste of Woodstock event and continue its Main Street program.
Peppers also said the city will continue making its façade grants available for property owners who want to revamp the external look of their buildings.
“One thing we have going on that’s been very nice in last few years is having our downtown businesses, the city’s elected officials, staff and downtown residents on the same page,” he said of the city’s ability to achieve its goals.
The city will also work on adding more public parking places and making improvements to Wall Street.
Other things that are tap for 2012 include relocating the Visitor’s Center at Dean’s Store to the Chambers at City Center and the city moving forward on the proposed installation of a left-turn lane onto North Main Street from Towne Lake Parkway and the construction of its proposed amphitheatre at the Park at City Center.
Peppers also said the city in March will host the state’s Main Street Institute conference, which could bring close to 150 visitors.
As far as businesses opening in downtown, Peppers said Woodstock Art Glass will open its retail store in the old Priest Home Furnishings location. He also said a couple of restaurants could open in Olde Towne Woodstock.
Woodstock also saw success in 2011, Peppers noted. About 146 new jobs were created and had 26 new businesses open between January and November of last year.
The city only had 12 businesses open in 2010. He also said both John Wieland Homes and First Cherokee State Bank have worked tirelessly to complete the residential portion of Woodstock Downtown.
The city in 2011 approved nearly $30,000 in façade grant applications, which Peppers said brought over $70,000 in private sector investments on the downtown’s historic properties.
Elm Street Arts has brought in additional people when they began using the Chambers at City Center for its performances and office space.
“It’s exciting to get people in to see what we are doing down here,” he said.