Foley Main Street is entering its fourth year and hopes to focus on strengthening nightlife in an already active downtown area.
“We’re working on it,” Executive Director Darrelyn Dunmore said. “It is one of our main focuses as a Main Street organization to get our downtown ready to have an active nightlife. We are also beginning an economic development project called “Envision Downtown Foley’ which will engage the community in a series of activities to envision and to plot the course for Downtown Foley.”
Foley was first accepted into the revitalization effort through Main Street Alabama in 2018 and has since been working with merchants and citizens to not only keep the area as an important part of the city but grow it as well. Main Street Alabama is a non-profit and an arm of Main Street America whose focus is building stronger downtown communities. The program was first started more than 40 years ago and is used nationwide. Cities have to meet certain criteria to be accepted into the program.
“When a community is ready for Main Street the time-tested Four Point Approach works,” Mary Helmer, state coordinator said. “It brings jobs, dollars and people back to downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.”
“Cities accepted into the program must present a plan for the downtown district and show the motivation to implement the plan. And, a simple love of the downtown area helps, too,” Helmer said.
“It’s a national program and the city had to do a lot of work to be accepted into the program,” Dunmore said. “Main Street Alabama only accepts two to three districts a year and you have to jump through a lot of hoops and prove your desire and commitment. Once you’re in a district you have to be accredited every year by the national program. You need to make sure you’re following the guidelines of being a Main Street organization.”
To that end, Dunmore said the focus for 2022 will be to improve the look of downtown through cleaning, sprucing up and adding other features to attract more businesses and visitors to the area.
“We’re working with the city on a number of projects for downtown,” Dunmore said. “We’re working on recruiting retail and recruiting more restaurants. We’re also working on getting a pedestrian crosswalk at Drowsy Poet across South McKenzie to then be able to get to the dog park, to be able to get to the shops and restaurants on the southeast part of downtown. We’re working on banners to identify and frame the downtown as well as historic street signs that are up now to identifying Downtown Foley. It’s all a part of defining Downtown Foley as a destination such as the beach and OWA. We are also aggressively marketing Downtown Foley.”
“Among other things, we are working on making the place pretty, we’re working on a lighting plan for downtown,” Dunmore said. “We’re also working on alley activation beginning with the alley behind the Magnolia Hotel. There are plans to put in a pocket park, mural art, lighting and more to get it ready to have night activities.”
Mayor Ralph Hellmich praised the effort and hopes it continues to flourish.
“Mainstreet has unified our downtown effort to enhance our local businesses and place the focus that is well deserved on our downtown assets,” Hellmich said. “They have worked closely with Ladonna (Hinesley, Foley marketing director) on projects to get folks to our downtown. Main Street signage is up, we’re working on Gateway signage and brought together downtown businesses to speak with one voice.”
Dunmore said not only is the excitement growing for downtown development, when others see improvements being made, they want to be a part of it, too.
“People are starting to get excited, the downtown businesses and property owners,” Dunmore said. “I call it the reverse broken window syndrome. If somebody starts working on their façade and we helped them with façade grants then others think ‘I should do that.’ I have a list of people calling wanting space down here and I need more space to put them.”
Dunmore is basically the staff of the Foley Main Street effort and is guided, supported and helped by a 12-member board made up of business owners, citizens and one representative from the city as well. She helps guide three committees to complete tasks and she depends on volunteer support. Her budget is about $110,000 a year and funds for projects are raised through partnerships with local businesses and partnerships are still available. Visit https://www.foleymainstreet.com/ to learn how to partner with Foley Main Street.
Dunmore said Foley Main Street recently finalized the Foley Main Street Community Foundation which has 501(c)3 status making Foley Main Street eligible for a variety of grants that could also help with funding in the effort to revitalize downtown.
“It’s really fun to watch the excitement grow,” she said. “It’s building and we know that we’re working and moving forward with this plan.”