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Dexter Suttle mixes grout for the lobby floor of the Mars Theatre in Lafayette, Ga. on Friday.

LaFayette, Ga., just marked a couple of firsts.

On Saturday, the Mars Theatre was scheduled to hold its first event since being gutted by fire in 2011.

Christmas in July -- featuring everything from photo opportunities with Santa and Mrs. Claus to a cash bar and dancing -- was to be held inside the former movie theater to benefit the LaFayette-Walker County Public Library.

"This will be our first cultural event there," said Michael Lovelady, who in the past year renovated the theater and most of the adjacent stores, transforming the once-vacant strip mall into what he's dubbed the Mars Theatre District.

In another first, Lovelady got a 2 percent interest, $200,000, 10-year loan from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to help fund the Mars TheatreDistrict buildings' renovation, which he said has cost about $600,000 overall.

"I'm the first one to get it in LaFayette," Lovelady said of the low-interest state loan. "Rome has gotten many of them. That's how they got most of their downtown developed."

Compared to a commercial note, he said, "you're looking at a savings of $80,000 to $90,000 over the life of the loan."

In order for Lovelady to get the state loan, he said, the City Council had to pass a referendum stating the project was in the downtown area and that the city supported it.

That's the extent of the city's obligation, Mayor Neal Florence said.

"He's going to be responsible for paying it back -- not the city," Florence said.

GDOT grant sought

Meanwhile, the city hopes to get a $225,000 Georgia Department of Transportation grant to finish a streetscaping project.

"Our main goal is to try to get [downtown] pedestrian friendly," the mayor said.

The state grant and a local match of $56,250 would pay for new sidewalks, street lamps, curbs and gutters, benches and garbage containers on both sides of West Patten Street from Cherokee to Main Street and on Duke Street from East Patten Street to the library.

The city already has paid to have the streetscape improvements designed, Planning and Zoning Director Rod Robertson said.

The city previously got Georgia Department of Transportation grants to fund the majority of streetscape improvements on East and West Villanow streets, all of East Patten Street and part of South Main Street, Robertson said.

Almost a year ago, the sidewalk was torn up near the Buttercup Alley gift store at 104 W. LaFayette St. during streetscape work on West Villanow.

"We lost at least like 10 spots for parking, and there's not enough [parking] to begin with," store manager Katie Durgin said. "Other than that, it's fine. It looks better than it did."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or 423-757-6651.