Milledgeville Main Street
2014 Great American Main Street Award Winner
• Founded: 1988
• Population: 19,401
• Net New Jobs: 394
• Net New Businesses: 154
• Building Rehabs: 89
• New Buildings: 4
• Housing Units Added: 22
• Vacancy Rate when program started: 50%
• Current Vacancy Rate: 8%
Beautiful Milledgeville, Georgia, a 2014 Great American Main Street Award winner, was the state capital from 1804 to 1868. Today, visitors will find many of the city’s historic antebellum buildings lovingly preserved — as well as a vibrant downtown business district that is wholeheartedly supported by the community.
Milledgeville Main Street, the organization behind the downtown’s success, was formed in 1988, and became a city department in 2007. Since then, the group has led a community effort to “reinvent ourselves,” as Mayor Richard Bentley puts it.
“Staying focused, having a solid Board of Directors and creating positivity throughout downtown lends itself to success,” says Milledgeville Main Street Director Carlee Schulte, who also cites the use of the NMSC Four-Point Approach® and a history of outstanding directors.
Two main efforts, in particular, have been critical in supporting local business owners and preserving the city’s historic character. The first is the city’s “grassroots” BOOST program, in which local donors give small sums of money to help local businesses. Milledgeville Main Street manages the money, and businesses can apply for grants of $100 to $1,000, to be used for marketing, advertising, exterior or interior renovations, and purchasing equipment.
A second program that has also helped boost the area is Milledgeville’s 50/50 facade-matching grant program, which offers up to $1,500 per business to conduct facade improvements. Over the past 10 years, that program “has really transformed the downtown,” Schulte says — and preserving the area’s charming historic character is key to those grants. In partnership with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs Design Studio, Milledgeville Main Street provides businesses with historically accurate design concepts before they begin renovations.
While there have been several significant historic rehabs downtown, two of the most important are the Campus Theatre and Baldwin Lofts.
Local developer Frank Pendergast, who rehabbed Baldwin Lofts, first helped catalyze downtown development in 1993, when he took a risk and opened a restaurant there, at a time “when no one else would,” according to Schulte. His pizzeria, The Brick, recently celebrated 20 years in business.
Building on the success of The Brick, Pendergast tackled the 1903 Horne Building, which was once occupied by a department store and seemed too large for any one business alone — until Pendergast decided to bring residential housing downtown. Completed in 2002, his $4 million Baldwin Lofts project added 15 apartments and two retail spaces downtown.
Georgia College purchased and rehabbed another downtown landmark, the Campus Theatre, in 2008. The $6.9 million renovation included a full restoration of the exterior and original Art Deco facade, while the interior was transformed into a black-box theatre, office space and bookstore.
The success of both the Baldwin Lofts and the Campus Theatre projects has only spurred further development, according to Schulte. Three large renovation projects are currently underway, which will provide at least 10 commercial spaces and 20 residential lots within the next two years and pour another $2 million into the district.
Looking to the future, Schulte says Milledgeville Main Street plans to continue growing its downtown, expanding its programs and recruiting new businesses, while exploring new options for parking.
“I believe that the future plans for a Main Street community must be a work in progress that is ever evolving,” she says.