HGTV fans in Elba are trying to convince the network the city is ready for its close-up.
With a Friday deadline looming, Elba is preparing an application to be considered for HGTV’s “Home Town Takeover” — a special six-episode series scheduled to air on the network in 2021.
The show is an offshoot of “Home Town,” hosted by Ben and Erin Napier of Laurel, Miss. They renovate houses in their hometown. They also have worked to revitalize downtown Laurel while preserving that town’s historic features and small-town charm.
What started as a “Wouldn’t that be neat?” germ of an idea rapidly grew to several dozen people who have volunteered to help with Elba’s application.
Laurie Chapman, a fan of the show and the network, is leading the project. She is the executive director of the Elba and New Brockton housing authorities. She has worked with the city’s non-profit, Restoration 154, and different projects to help Elba.
Chapman has an eye on the clock this week trying to meet Friday’s deadline.
“People kept tagging me on Facebook when the application came out,” she said. “They want you to submit a video. They really don’t have much criteria out there at all. It has to be a less than 500-meg video, is all it said, and tell us why we should select your town. It has to be under 40,000 people, which Elba’s only 4,000 so we’re well under the size.”
Chapman’s husband took drone football of different properties the Napiers might like to sink their sledgehammers into. A committee narrowed those properties to six houses and six commercial or public spaces, she said.
“We’ve got the aerial shots. We’re trying to do it like an HGTV show would be, kind of rising up from the ground,” Chapman said. “Colby Capps is helping put the video part together.”
She was in New Orleans on business last week and took the opportunity to go through Laurel.
“I went the long way so I could stalk them a little bit,” Chapman said with a laugh. “I went to their store. Ben and Erin weren’t there, but I met a girl named Ashliegh Allen. She was really sweet.
“I took them a courthouse replica that we have. I said I wanted to leave a little piece of Elba in Laurel and hope y’all do the same and leave a piece of Laurel in Elba.”
Turns out Ashliegh lived in Andalusia when she was little and her husband’s grandparents live in Dothan.
“She sat down with me and let me fill her ear full of my ideas for things to do in Elba,” Chapman said. “She said you’ve got some good stories. We swapped cell phone numbers and I’ve been texting her.
“I think making personal connections are important. They can’t forget you as easy as everybody else. We’re trying to make them understand they at least need to come visit and let us talk them through it.”
That personal connection is the point of the video.
“We’re taking a different approach, a more personal approach,” Chapman said. “We’re trying to tell the story of the floods and how Elba’s really had to band together to rebuild and the struggles that we’ve been through. We’re trying to pain the picture.”
Sandy Bynum, the President of the Elba Chamber of Commerce, said seven or eight dozen people have volunteered for the project.
“We’ve been entrenched in trying to make Elba better,” Bynum said, adding that’s nothing new for the city. “We were the smallest town that had been designated a Main Street City. It took all of us working together to get that. We got a $500,000 grant for the square.
“Elba went through three floods in the 1990s. It was looking like an old lady. We’ve been trying to clean her up.”
Bynum noted a key part of her job is about business. But she said there was more.
“A part of the story is we have some beautiful older homes that at one time were historically significant. They could be redone and be really gorgeous,” she said. “A lot of towns didn’t lose that. Many of those older houses just moved out. Because of the flooding, it caused people to move to higher ground.
“Certainly, the new levee has been more reliable. I think people are thinking they wouldn’t be investing in something that could wash away. We’ve got that story to tell, as well.”
Chapman, as the housing authority director, said the town could absolutely benefit not just from the publicity, but from the improvements.
“Part of my job is to make the housing market in Elba increase in value because that helps my funding here,” Chapman said. “If I have higher comps I can help my tenants more. It does tie into what I do on a daily basis.”
Both Chapman and Bynum understand the odds are long to land the TV series.
“I’m sure it’s incredibly competitive,” Chapman said. “When I walked in their store I told them we’re applying for the show. They were like, yeah, people tell us that all the time.”
“We’re one tiny town in a million,” Bynum said. “Who knows what a big network would choose?
“But we know if we don’t try we won’t win.”