Ten Wonderful Small Town Central Business Districts in the South
At SB&D we have had the good fortune of visiting some outstanding Small Town South central business districts that we have found both vibrant and exciting. Nothing tops off a suitable small town location more than a great downtown. Here are 10 that we just love. For more information on Small Town South, go to www.SmallTownSouth.com.
Bardstown, Ky., voted the "Most Beautiful Small Town in America" by Rand McNally and USA Today, is more than just a pretty face. Home to over 40 national and international manufacturing facilities including American Greetings, Flowers Foods and Toyota Boshoku, Bardstown continues to receive national accolades as a great place to do business. Bardstown's other claim to fame is its designation as the "Bourbon Capital of the World," with over 90 percent of the world's bourbon made in this region including Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Barton's 1792, Willett, Makers Mark, Wild Turkey and Four Roses. Louisville, the nation's 16th largest city, is located minutes away and offers an international airport, UPS World Hub, a major university and access to three major interstates. Bardstown's strategic location has led to significant growth in the automotive, food processing, and logistics sectors, which prompted the construction of a new 300-acre industrial park ready for its next company.
The Danville, Ky., community is unlike any other. Here, you will find a Main Street breathing with life, tourist attractions known around the world, and unparalleled business and industry services. Beyond the charm of its historic architecture and welcoming attitude, Danville stands out with its broad economic foundation. In addition to manufacturing and distribution, wide-ranging professional expertise and a full complement of service businesses, Danville is a regional hub for health care, postsecondary education, cultural events and active recreation. Danville is located in Boyle County and is a part of the Danville Micropolitan Area with a population of 53,281. In 2012, Danville was ranked one of the top 10 small towns in the U.S. by Livability.com, based upon median household incomes, home prices, crime rate, unemployment rate, average commute, and distance to large cities. Also in 2012, Danville was a finalist in the "Most Beautiful Small Town" category in the Rand McNally and USA Today Best of the Road contest. This year, Danville was named one of the top 100 micropolitans in the U.S. for the sixth time by Site Selection Magazine, and has appeared in numerous publications as one of the best retirement towns. Danville is home to the campuses of Eastern Kentucky University, Bluegrass Community & Technical College, National College, and Centre College, which was host to the 2012 Vice-Presidential Debate. Last year, Danville was fifth in Kentucky to receive Work Ready Community certification, proving the community is committed to providing the highly-skilled workforce required in today's competitive global economy.
Sumter, South Carolina
Sumter, S.C., prides itself for being "In the Middle of Everything." Just east of the capital city of Columbia, Sumter is centrally located not only in the Palmetto State, but along the Eastern Seaboard, equidistant to both Miami and New York. While drawing no comparison to The Big Apple, Sumter's modest downtown has changed rapidly over the past decade. . .from the addition of new upper story housing in the Central Business District (CBD) to new retail and upscale dining opportunities. Additionally, Sumter's downtown has added the new corporate offices of Thompson-Turner Construction and Continental Tire, as well as a major new educational facility, the Central Carolina Technical College Health Sciences Center, bringing more than 1,600 students to a growing downtown. An ongoing local option sales tax, approved by voters, has funded several streetscape projects and a new downtown judicial center, while local volunteer groups and civic clubs have both physically and financially pitched in to improve Sumter's downtown. Finally, the community's creative revitalization and entertainment programs find ways for the public and private sectors to work together for the common cause of improving and enjoying the heart of this growing and vibrant mid-sized Southern community.
Bradenton, which is located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, is nicknamed the "Friendly City" for good reason. Nestled between the Gulf of Mexico and the Manatee River, the small-town city, with a population of just 50,000, welcomes its guests with the charm of a laid-back coastal town. At the heart of Bradenton is its downtown, and front and center is the recently renovated and redeveloped Riverwalk, which runs along the Manatee River. Featuring a little bit of everything from the 400-seat Mosaic Amphitheater to the Family Fun Zone (complete with a splash fountain), the Riverwalk is open year-round and showcases concerts, festivals and other community activities. In addition to the Riverwalk, downtown Bradenton boasts a creative arts scene with the Manatee Players, a national, award-winning theatrical group, leading the way. The organization, whose upcoming season features well-known shows such as Evita, Fiddler on the Roof and Miss Saigon, performs in the new Manatee Performing Arts Center adjacent to the Riverwalk. Founded in 1943, when the Florida legislature merged the cities of Manatee and Bradentown, Bradenton covers roughly 15 square miles, but is a bustling area with an eclectic mix of arts, culture and heritage.
Historic Downtown Columbus is a nationally recognized "Great American Main Street Community," an honor bestowed annually to only five communities nationwide. It is a community filled with beauty and charm, and one with an appreciation for the old while openly welcoming the new. A combination of retail, residential and commercial businesses fill this thriving downtown and make for a charisma that sets Columbus apart. It is a place that residents are proud to call home. Downtown Columbus leads the state in upper floor housing, featuring over 140 downtown living options, ranging from small loft style apartments to spacious family living. The birthplace of playwright Tennessee Williams, located in the heart of downtown, is just a stones' throw away from the Columbus Riverwalk, a 2.2-mile walking trail along the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway. Adjacent to the Riverwalk is a state-of-the-art soccer complex and an award-winning Mississippi certified Farmers' Market. The organization known as Main Street Columbus is the driving force behind this award-winning and vibrant downtown. Its mission is to enhance the local culture and quality of life through growth, planning, diversification and preservation of the downtown historic district.Numerous special events take place in Columbus throughout the year, adding to the everyday appeal of the outstanding town center.
In the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg, Va., is a community rich in preservation and sustainable design, local food and the arts. A vibrant downtown and a reputation as the "Friendly City" are emphasized by local-focused experiences through community events and independent businesses. Many historic buildings in the downtown district have been renovated and now house more than 25 restaurants, 50 shops and 500 living units. Foodie culture supports a strong commitment to local growers and the farm-to-table movement. Downtown restaurants feature seasonal menus that complement the thriving Harrisonburg Farmers Market and Friendly City Food Co-op. Events include Rocktown Beer & Music Festival, Rocktown Wine & Dine Festival, and the bi-annual restaurant week, Taste of Downtown. Creativity extends beyond the plate, with downtown Harrisonburg designated as the first Arts & Cultural District in Virginia and home to arts-related businesses and events, including monthly First Fridays Downtown art walks, the Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference (MACRoCk), and the Super Gr8 Film Festival. Unique attractions, such as the Explore More Discovery Museum, which draws more than 60,000 visitors annually, and the Virginia Quilt Museum, one of only a few in the country, offer opportunities to experience something new.
Winner of the title "Most Beautiful City" from America in Bloom, Historic Downtown Stuart, located in Martin County, Fla., embodies everything that the phrase "Tropical Paradise" brings to mind. The Historic Downtown is filled with quaint shops and galleries selling antiques, art, gifts, jewelry and collectibles. Downtown Stuart has many fine restaurants, as well as the historic Lyric Theater and Stuart Heritage Museum. The river is at the backdoor of town and there is a Riverwalk Stage, free fishing pier and boat dock, as well as a beautiful boardwalk where you can take a stroll along the river's edge. Stuart, Fla., is also home to many of the Martin County targeted businesses. The Life Sciences sector is anchored in downtown Stuart by Martin County Health Systems. Other targeted sectors represented include aerospace/aviation, marine, headquarters and professional services.
El Dorado, Arkansas
After suffering major job losses from 2000-2007, El Dorado, Ark., has come back in a huge way. In fact, CNN recently recognized El Dorado as one of the top comeback towns in the country. Many of its major industrial employers are expanding, with over a billion dollars of capital investment and hundreds of jobs on the way. Murphy Oil Corporation, headquartered in downtown El Dorado, is spinning off its retail subsidiary Murphy USA later this year (which will also be located in the district). And at the center of it all is one of America's best downtowns. Not only does downtown El Dorado serve as the banking and legal center of the region, redevelopment efforts have created an upbeat environment featuring dozens of restaurants, coffee shops and unique retailers. El Dorado's next step is a $50 million public/private partnership to develop an entertainment district at the southern end of downtown, including parks, a public market, outdoor performance spaces and a complete overhaul of the historic Rialto Theatre. This district will serve as home to the Southern Theatre Festival, a year-round series of live theatre productions focused on Southern art and culture.
Just east of Austin on State Highway 71 toward Houston and a 20-minute drive from Austin International airport, sits the thriving community of Bastrop. At the crossroads of Central Texas growth where state highways 71, 21 and 95 meet, Bastrop is an attractive alternative and stopover destination for travelers to business and sporting events in the region. Travelers will find a variety of hotel rooms -- from luxury accommodations at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort, to business class hotels, to quaint cottages and inns. Bastrop is also an ideal location for bio tech, manufacturing and assembly, packaging, fulfillment and distribution operations. With a plentiful and skilled labor force, including engineers and specialized tradesmen, artisans and assembly workers, Bastrop has the workers that businesses need and the high quality of place that can attract professionals and senior management. But you won't see Bastrop's true charm by driving on Highway 71. Take the Chestnut Street exit, drive over the old iron bridge and you will witness a bygone era; one of the most charming central business districts in the entire South.
Here is another one of the South's most beautiful and vibrant small town downtowns. Like Bastrop, Georgetown is located in the Austin metro, north of the capital city. Georgetown has been winning awards for its central business district before restored downtowns were cool. It won its first as the 1997 Great American Main Street Award winner. In fact, Georgetown launched its Main Street program way back in 1982 and adopted a four-point approach advocated by the National Trust Main Street Center. If you were around in 1982, you remember that the cost of borrowing money had soared to rates near 20 percent. Georgetown's interest in restoring its historic resources was assisted by local banks that offered significantly lower interest loans for the renewal of the town's grand Victorian buildings and facades. By 1984, 40 rehabilitations were completed in downtown Georgetown. Today, the downtown is the envy of all, winning another award of many recently; "Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas."