Heart and Soul Headed to Albany

KK Snyder

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

A group of about 50 business leaders, banking executives, downtown developers, philanthropists and state agency heads will pull into Albany today with the Heart and Soul Bus Tour, designed to showcase various ways in which small Georgia cities are revitalizing and capitalizing on their downtowns.

Cities are chosen each year to participate because of the efforts they've made to create vibrant and strong communities through public-private partnerships, according to the Georgia Cities Foundation, which organizes the tour.  The tour is part of an overall effort to educate and inform state leaders on the importance of successful downtown development and its role in supporting economic development efforts for regions and communities.

The bus tour will arrive in Albany this afternoon, where guests will be greeted at the Ray Charles Plaza. Following tours through Thronateeska and the Flint RiverQuarium, guests will be treated to an alfresco dinner downtown on the banks of the Flint, said James Taylor, Albany’s assistant city manager of public service. Taylor also serves as interim downtown manager and ADICA director.

“We’ll have a chance to talk to them about our downtown opportunities and what our vision plan is for downtown development,” Taylor said, noting Albany has been preparing for the event for the past eight weeks. “We can tell them what we’ve done so far and what we plan to do.”

During the dinner, each participant will meet local elected officials, business leaders, property owners, developers, bankers and other Albany representatives. It’s a prime opportunity for some one-on-one candid discussions regarding the future of Albany’s downtown.

“We tried to pair someone with each (participant) so there will be someone with them during dinner to talk to them intelligently about Albany and answer their questions,” said Taylor. Last week, local representatives participating in the dinner received a briefing, bringing them up to speed on Albany’s downtown and what is being done regarding plans for redevelopment and revitalization, he added.

After spending the night in the Good Life City, participants will enjoy breakfast before touring the Albany Civil Rights Institute, where they will be treated to a special performance by the Freedom Singers before boarding the bus for the next city.

“The foundation’s goal is to help cities through successful public-private partnerships,” said Mike Starr, president of Georgia Cities Foundation, on their website. “We will show nine very good examples of cities that have been successful in creating wonderful downtowns and vibrant communities through such partnerships.”

The foundation has held a bus tour every year since 2001 as part of an overall effort to educate and inform state leaders on the importance of successful downtown development and its role in supporting overall economic development efforts for regions and communities.

“The foundation has a proven track record of downtown development,” said Starr. “We’ve raised nearly $25 million for a revolving loan pool to support downtown projects valued at more than $100 million.”

Albany is one of nine cities on the three-day tour, a rare opportunity as the annual event typically targets smaller towns with a population of 50,000 or less, Taylor said. During the Albany stop, guests will receive an information package about Albany, as well as autographed copies of a Paula Deen cookbook, copies of music CDs by Luke Bryan and Ray Charles and other Albany souvenirs.

While on the tour, participants will also visit downtown Americus, Cordele, Griffin, Moultrie, Senoia, Thomasville, Tifton and Valdosta.