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From Vacant to Occupied: Lavonia, Georgia’s Downtown Turnaround

Full resource: Rural Community Spotlight: Lavonia, Georgia

Date published: 2013
Source: National Association of Development Organizations
Authors: Parrish Bergquist, National Association of Development Organizations Research Foundation Graduate Fellow

Lavonia, Georgia (pop. 2133), was originally a small farming community built along a railroad, graced by a traditional town square and historic buildings. Over recent years it has been suffering high downtown vacancies, but is now experiencing a resurgence due to the presence of a new, state-of-the-art medical center. The City has been revising its comprehensive plan to manage the new-found growth, looking for place-based strategies to help balance economic revitalization with the community’s prized natural resources, viewsheds and agricultural areas.

Lavonia joined Georgia’s Better Hometown Program in 1999, and with this support the city adopted a strategy which focused on business retention rather than business recruitment, aiming to strengthen local ties and assets. This strategy involved generating downtown activity, community vibrancy, and better supporting merchants through cultural events and street-level beautification. As a result buildings have been rehabilitated and leased or sold to new tenants. Significantly, the city has also led the transformation of these buildings. For example, a restored rail depot has become a welcome center which not only receives a huge number of visitors from I-85, but will now also become multi-use as a museum, community event space and city offices.  A former National Guard armory has also been converted into a cultural center, with a full theatre and exhibition space for art shows and cultural events. The case study shows how careful planning and public-private partnerships can contribute to a stronger and more viable local economy, cultural life and community.

This account is part of the NADO Research Foundation’s Vibrant Rural Communities series of case studies, which describes how rural regions and small towns across the country are growing local and regional economies and creating stronger communities. This series shows how communities can leverage a wide range of tools and resources to build on their assets, protect their resources, and make strategic investments that offer long-term benefits.

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