Work won't begin immediately, but the prospects for downtown Summerville, Ga., are brighter now than they were just a few days ago. A $500,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation will allow the community to improve the transportation and pedestrian infrastructure of its historic downtown. The result should bring more visitors to the area and, in doing so, provide an economic boost to the city. If that proves the case - and it should - the grant is a wise investment of state funds.
The project, according to department officials and state Rep. Barbara Massey-Reece, D-Menlo, will be funded through an Enhancement Grant from the transportation department and begin once GDOT studies and reviews are completed. It will be used to continue a long-term project to restore, enhance and tie together historic landmarks in the community. Earlier funds from the state transportation department helped the city restore the Summerville Railroad Depot and the Summerville Railroad Turntable.
The latest grant will be used to build new sidewalks, increase handicapped accessibility and to provide new street planters, landscaping and period street lighting in the town that is the Chattooga County seat. When complete, the new construction and other elements should provide a strong, visible and easily traversed link between the refurbished depot and turntable and the Couey House and the Chattooga County Courthouse, two other historic buildings in the downtown. The connection should prove doubly beneficial.
Russell Thompson, Summerville's city manager, said, "Our thought when we applied for the grant [was] that it was an economic development project. We thought we could make downtown more attractive." There's wisdom in those words. A more attractive downtown, of course, will attract more visitors. That, in turn, should provide an economic boost to the community.
Massey-Reece offers a slightly different but similarly supportive view of the project. "Summerville's commitment to further economic development opportunities by restoring its unique historic elements will boost the tourism experience and enhance the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum's steam-engine excursions into the city." In other words, improvements downtown should bring more tourists - and their dollars - into the community.
It's not all about visitors and dollars, though. A restored and enhanced downtown often serves as a catalyst for additional growth and as a source of community and regional pride. Those are significant benefits for a relatively small investment.