Dothan’s downtown has become a place where people can shop, dine and unwind. Now, advocates are working on getting people to stay for a while.
Two planned downtown housing projects have been touted as a “game changer” for the restoration of the area.
“We are really trying to promote a destination for the community and neighboring communities as a place to come and not just partake in the bars or the coffee shops but sit and stay for a while, and we’re really seeing that happening,” said Jamie Bienvenu, Dothan Downtown Redevelopment Authority executive director.
Over the course of 2019, the authority gained momentum on several fronts: growing downtown events, increasing the variety of downtown merchants and beautifying the area. A year of prosperity has made the possibility of downtown living an attractive prospect. Likewise, Bienvenu believes that semi-permanent residents would spur more growth.
“Once we have more residential living downtown, then it really becomes a seven days a week, 24 hours a day downtown, and that really will spill into the businesses that are already open, and that’s really ultimately our goal,” she said. “The more sales tax we can generate downtown for those businesses, the better the economy does, the better the community and culture is downtown.”
The authority recently confirmed ongoing renovation projects that will turn two historic downtown buildings — the juvenile justice building on Foster Street and an old industrial site on St. Andrews Street — into residential living, a long-standing goal of the agency.
At the Dothan City Commission’s meeting Tuesday, Bienvenu announced plans for an estimated $3.7 million project to renovate the St. Andrews Street historic site for residential living and retail space.
Bienvenu said developers based in New Orleans who specialize in renovating historic buildings will create at least 16 residential units comparable in price to other rental units in the area.
“It also has some mixed-use components for retail,” she said. “It was a perfect storm of things that all came together to make this project work.”
The authority requested a $405,000 appropriation from the city to help the developers with a 10% financing gap.
“The request asked on the part of the developers is miniscule compared to the investment they’re putting into the property,” she said.
The appropriation included money to buy a South Oates Street property priced at $25,000, and begin facade improvement efforts to properties around “the hump.”
The St. Andrews investment is not set, but the deal with other developers currently auditing the juvenile justice building is signed.
Bienvenu confirmed that the upstairs will be renovated for residential space while the downstairs will be designated for shops.
The Howell School renovations, which will provide 55 units for assisted senior living, also should be finished by the end of this month.
In addition to bringing its vision of downtown living to fruition, the authority has been accomplished in helping attract several new businesses to the downtown area, most of which are locally owned. The city’s efforts alongside the DDRA have helped businesses grow and thrive.
The spirit of restoration and preservation has been celebrated by family-owned businesses like Mural City Coffee, a popular cafe on Foster Street, which preserved the historical integrity of a downtown structure on its own while contributing to the downtown atmosphere.
Efforts to revitalize the downtown area gained momentum in 2019 with new businesses, city help and innovative ideas like plans to renovate the old ice cream plant into a farmers market. That project was delayed due to a fire that destroyed the building, but leaders say plans will move forward.
In review, 2019 was a prosperous year for downtown, drawing foot traffic to areas of Dothan that were previously largely abandoned, ignored and ugly not that long ago. Diablo’s Southwest Grill, Beyond Grace (a boutique), Kiss My Axe, Stix and Cones, and Rob and Dave’s arcade opened on Foster. Rain, an upscale event venue, opened on St. Andrews. Denim Resellers opened on South Oates.
Murals were created on the Porter Paint building to turn blighted areas into Instagram-able locations. KBC recently expanded its dining area and extended its evening hours. The city has helped restaurants by passing the “brunch bill” that pushed back the time alcohol could be sold on Sundays and passed the sidewalk cafe ordinance so businesses could sell food and drink outside their businesses.