Work is underway on the building across the street from the Fort Payne Opera House as the Fort Payne Main Street organization prepares to move into it.
Interim Director Connie Fuller said, “By moving our office from behind the Coal & Iron Building… to Fort Payne's ‘Main Street’, we free up valuable real estate the City of Fort Payne can use to generate revenue and we accomplish the goals set forth in our commitment as a Main Street community.”
“Moving to the new ‘Fort Payne Main Street Square’, as we like to call it -- which consists of the Chandelier Tree, Farmers Market, our office, a downtown information kiosk, and public restrooms -- will allow us to be a connector to the Depot Museum, Landmarks, City Park, Alabama Walking Park, and stakeholders to the north and south of us in the district,” Fuller said.
The construction underway, spearheaded by Council member Johnny Eberhart, will improve the back portion of the building where there are already public restrooms. The building is ideally situated to make a good impression as it serves visitors to the area with parking between the Opera House and Depot Museum. The space is part of events like the Third Saturday Sunset Cruise-In and the Boom Days Heritage Celebration.
The adjoining intersection was recently improved with new lighting and a wider turn for trucks heading north off Fifth Street NE. Fort Payne Main Street has promoted a regular Farmer’s Market in the same parking lot and the Fort Payne Improvement Authority plans to install an electric vehicle charging station.
Fuller said Fort Payne has demonstrated remarkable resilience despite recent pressure put on businesses.
“It is apparent that we are still alive. What other part of the city has experienced the type of B-to-C [Business-to-Consumer] growth that we have while in the midst of a global pandemic? There have been numerous real estate sales transactions, new loft apartments created, new businesses locating to Main Street, including Cotton State Boutique, Vineyard Church, Valley Nutrition, Boxed Leaf Health Store, Bleu River, Alice Circle, Miller Poppery, Therapy Junction and The Blue Charm Boutique,” Fuller said.
Through legislative funding, the sale of “together FP” t-shirts and assistance from the City of Fort Payne, Fort Payne Main Street has been able to award more than $12,000 in grants directly to downtown businesses during the pandemic and provided breakfast and lunch for first responders in the historic downtown business district.
“The creation of the 501(c)3 Friends of Fort Payne Main Street allows us to accept donations and offer sponsorships to those who wish to benefit from our consumer visibility,” Fuller said. “Our goal is to continue to raise the visibility of the Main Street District for the benefit of our stakeholders: merchants, restaurants, businesses and investors.”
With large numbers of people vaccinated, these groups can gradually expect a return to normalcy. For Fort Payne Main Street, this means revisiting the “Three Big Things” they focused on before COVID-19. These included the creation of a marketing plan for the downtown district, recruitment of a brewery and pursuit of more grants to finance further downtown enhancements to improve the aesthetic for shoppers, tourists and diners.
Fuller said a team of board members are in the process of contacting downtown businesses to gather information and feedback “of where everyone is now and their ideas, for a re-boot. We are working with tourism to participate in Restaurant Week this year, hopefully in August; and we have started filming ‘Main Street Minute’, a series of testimonials from district business owners telling us the impact Fort Payne Main Street had on them opening or keeping their business in downtown Fort Payne.”
A survey of residents indicated a brewery topped the local wishlist. However, Fuller said, “This has not materialized due to the slow down in the economy due to COVID. Breweries just are not expanding. But we will readjust our plans accordingly once we gather a new round of information from downtown businesses to see if this is still important to them.”
Friends of Fort Payne Main Street is governed by a separate board of directors compromised of past and present Main Street board members.