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The problem down on Main Street: Empty buildings

With the recent merger of Main Street Fitness and another fitness club, downtown Jasper is left with another of our key properties darkened.

While combining two fitness clubs is hardly news to rock the local economy, it is certainly poor news for Main Street merchants or anyone hoping for a vibrant downtown.

The two story structure that housed Main Street Fitness is a longstanding cornerstone of Jasper’s Main Street – the first building you see as you approach from the south. Having it empty adds to the impression that much of town is, if not boarded up, at least not occupied.

Consider that on our corners: the Main Street Fitness building is now vacant, the NAPA building (commonly called Old Blue), on the most prominent corner in town at Main and Highway 53, has been empty for some time, and the corner restaurant on Stegall and Main, which housed the Crowe’s Nest for many years, has been empty several years.

The image of a diminishing downtown is, sadly, most accurate. A walk along Main Street shows the former Nan’s Hallmark (a very large space) sitting empty on the west side of the street and the Savor restaurant, on the east side, sitting empty for too many years to count.

Adding to the closed downtown list is the large sprawling area beside the courthouse that housed the SideBar Restaurant/ Sharp Mountain Grill. And there is far too much empty space to count if you drive down East Church Street toward the County Admin building.

While downtown is not anywhere near 50 percent empty, the amount of empty space available on Main Street, in empty office spaces along the streets that run parallel to Main and across the city limits represents a vast amount of untapped commercial potential for this area.

In a discussion of small town economics with State Representative Rick Jasperse just before the opening of this legislative session, we encouraged him to look for ways to get empty commercial space back in action, especially if there were state funds, rebates, tax advantages that could help an entrepreneur. Some people with valid ideas/plans that might convert empty storefronts to productive businesses, given the economic collapse, lack the capital to get started. Coming up with a first month’s rent, a security deposit, funds for renovating, furnishing and stocking a new business is no small thing.

Encouraging state help for private businesses is not a position we are fully comfortable advocating. In the past, we have generally opposed ideas that brought government interference into private ventures such as downtown real estate. In fact, we have noted in past editorials that the blue NAPA building should stay blue as long as the owner wants it blue, it being private property.

But seeing so much real estate in downtown sitting idle, we’re softening our position. If government in Washington can bail out Wall Street, surely there is something our economic developer can do to help Main Street.

The empty space affects much more than the just the image of the town. You can’t very well submit a resume´, offer a cleaning service, arrange for insurance, install signage, sell advertising, perform pest control, or cater lunches for storefronts with locked doors.

It’s the problem down on Main Street: empty buildings mean missing pieces of the economic pyramid. It’s not just the owners of an empty building or laid-off former employees who suffer.

As presented to State Rep. Jasperse, if there were funds/credits/ resources to help a would-be entrepreneur with more ideas than capital to take an empty restaurant or fitness club and re-open it as a new gift shop, restaurant, antique store, law office or whatever the prospective business owner has in mind, then that would be a solid economic stimulus for Main Streets across Georgia.

 

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