PICKENS — With a sluggish economy continuing to slowly rebound, downtown revitalization for small town America has become an even bigger issue for continued growth and the city of Pickens is making patient steps in the right direction.
Pickens Mayor David Owens remembers the days when the town’s Main Street was vibrant and alive and feels the factor for its collapse is tied to its solution: the economy.
“When manufacturing began to close down around the country, downtowns everywhere lost the financial backing to stay in business,” he said. “It was mostly textiles around here, but when they closed we lost jobs and taxes, and there wasn’t as much to spend downtown, so small business owners were forced to close.”
With the economy beginning to gain steam, dispensable income has made available other options for business recruitment, despite some communities’ displeasure with some of the options, such as big box stores.
The city of Pickens doesn’t see it that way.
“I personally was glad to see Walmart and some of these other businesses come into the community. It’s once again brought people to or through Pickens,” Owens said. “Now we have to get them to stop. That’s what we’re doing here, working with the right people to find a way to make that happen.”
Remaking a town isn’t easy or cheap and that’s where patience comes into play.
With the completion of its amphitheater and the recent announcement of the final Doodle Trail plan, the city feels it is beginning to make progress with more plans for the future.
“The amphitheater was just part of phase one as the city is moving forward,” City Administrator Katherine Hendrix said. “We have new sidewalks, all the power lines downtown are buried and we have new lighting downtown. It’s beginning to have a whole new feel and look, which is what we want to attract new businesses.”
One initiative the city is offering is stems from a federal program named Façade Grant. The city will match up to $5,000 to business owners to improve the aesthetic appearance of their building, improving property values.
“It’s a great program. I just talked to two businesses coming in and it felt great to be able to tell them we would help improve the appearance of their business with matching funds,” Hendrix said. “In essence it’s their money, either through taxes or business licensing coming back to the business owner. And when we talk to prospective businesses it’s a great tool to have.”
Moving forward, Owens was excited to relate what Pickens has in store including decreasing the number of vacant buildings, way finding signage directing travelers, continued appearance improvements, and more community related events. Hendrix believes the right personnel are in place to make progress.
“It’s been interesting how much cooperation city council has put forth,” Hendrix said. “Sometimes things like this aren’t popular because tax money is being spent, there are zoning changes, and the public isn’t thrilled. Council understands and has the same vision of making downtown Pickens a destination.”