Saving downtown: What it's going to take to revitalize downtown Albany

Saving downtown: What it's going to take to revitalize downtown Albany
It's scenes like this that city leaders are trying to improve. (Source: WALB)
It's scenes like this that city leaders are trying to improve. (Source: WALB)
The Flats at 249 are slated to open in Fall 2017, with dozens already applying to occupy the 64 unit loft apartments. (Source: WALB)
The Flats at 249 are slated to open in Fall 2017, with dozens already applying to occupy the 64 unit loft apartments. (Source: WALB)
But it's the centerpiece that's helped to spur the development: Pretoria Fields brewery, which is weeks away from tapping its first brew. (Source: WALB)
But it's the centerpiece that's helped to spur the development: Pretoria Fields brewery, which is weeks away from tapping its first brew. (Source: WALB)
Albany commissioner BJ Fletcher has been a big voice for downtown development. (Source: WALB)
Albany commissioner BJ Fletcher has been a big voice for downtown development. (Source: WALB)

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The pieces to a long-awaited and decades-long unfinished development puzzle are finally coming together.

Albany commissioner BJ Fletcher has been a big voice for downtown development. Millions of dollars pouring into an area once known for blighted and empty properties is now being filled with promising businesses.

"I've seen the contracts. We've got some serious local people who are waiting for these building to get ready," said Fletcher.

Earlier this month Albany Realty took over the Front Street properties. Ten of them that downtown leaders want to be filled with restaurants and merchants.

"Construction has already begun on two of those spaces that we have tenants in the pipeline for. It's going to be about a 50 day period before the buildings are ready so within the next 3 to 6 months you will be able to see more occupants occupying those spaces," said Latoya Cutts, downtown manager.

Right now it isn't known which businesses have expressed interest, but Fletcher says it's a mix of antique, boutique and restaurants.

"The people coming here, it's not chains, it's locals. A lot of them don't want anything said yet. It's almost like don't say anything. But they're coming and right now you can come in here pretty reasonable"

It's in an effort to bring downtown back to its glory days. Once a thriving place for shopping and commerce, that by-gone era largely faded when the Albany Mall was built in the northwest part of town.

The biggest push now is residential.

The Flats at 249 are already pre-leasing on the 64 unit loft apartments. And there are talks about lofts being built in the former Albany Utilities building.

"The residential component of is key. So having people who are here after 5 p.m. will support the buildings in downtown Albany."

The resurgence has already attracted the Albany Museum of Art to the old Belk's building.

But it's the centerpiece that's helped to spur the development: Pretoria Fields brewery, which is weeks away from tapping its first brew.

And while there's been no pen to paper, the popular Albany Fish Company is close to inking a deal to move next door.

The city spending $623,000 to make renovations to the future site. Commissioner Fletcher says it money that has to be spent if a return is expected.

"The taxpayers own these buildings. Do they want us to buy them and just let them sit here? If you're a building owner. if you rent to somebody you have to be up to code. So do we. I'm not one to say I told you so, but I can't wait until some of them they stroll down here with their family and enjoy life," said Fletcher.

Downtown leaders are working to draw Millennials to the area.

ADICA has brought ASU to the table to discuss ways to incorporate the school into the down area.

And for those on the go, a push to bring in a food truck park.

It's strategies other downtowns have used, and it's something leaders say will require some patience.

"If you go to other downtowns and talk to the leadership there they will tell you it didn't happen overnight. And they have had some of the same struggled that we've had, but their patience and perseverance and having leadership and community that was committed to revitalizing downtown, it paid off in the long run," said Cutts.

"Five years from now two things will happen: People will ask how we turned it around or they will ask how we didn't," said Fletcher.

Copyright 2017 WALB. All rights reserved.

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