I received in the mail last week a magazine from Toccoa entitled “Living on Main Street — A Visitor’s Guide To Main Street Toccoa.” One of the first things you see is a group of some 100 people behind a banner for Main Street Toccoa.
Inside there are photographs of pretty, neat, colorful street scenes putting on full display the pride Toccoans and their leadership take in their community. Life downtown is vibrant, inviting, exciting.
The sidewalks are covered in pavers, trees line the area, colorful flowers abound, fresh paint is everywhere, attractive signage guides visitors to points of interest.
There are photographs of the Toccoa City Commission, Downtown Development Authority, Planning Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, Economic Restructuring Committee and Promotions Committee.
Contrast that with downtown Hazlehurst where there are empty buildings everywhere, weeds dot the landscape, the sidewalks are dangerously cracked and unlevel. Hazlehurst’s downtown is in disarray, signaling a dying community.
It didn’t have to be that way. Years ago, city voters approved a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that dedicated $500,000 to streetscape and parks. After thousands of dollars were used to improve our parks, around $260,000 remained, maybe more, intended for streetscape. As a City Council member I was asked to serve on a committee to develop the Baxley Highway recreation site. The plan, I was told, was to build a splash pad at the site. I quickly asked, where we would get the money and the answer was “with SPLOST money.” I knew then, the downtown improvement dream I had was doomed.
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I made the decision then and there to not run for reelection because of my frustrations at trying to improve Hazlehurst only to be thwarted at every turn.
There is a dedicated group of people trying to revive my dashed dreams. And I’m joining them to try to help. We need more help. If you have pride in our community, call me and jump on board. Or call Rory Chaney who is spearheading efforts to show our community’s pride in our downtown area.
We need everyone’s help.