Heart of Georgia Regional Development Commission (HOGA) planners Mandy Britt and Anna Weaver presented the completed Downtown Hazlehurst Master Plan to the Hazlehurst City Council at its November meeting last month.
The Plan was developed over several months by a 22-member steering committee consisting of city and county officials, business owners and members of the public.
The plan consists of four parts: SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) Analysis, Current Infrastructure, Downtown Distress, and Revitalization Goals.
In a series of meetings, the steering committee took a critical look at the downtown Hazlehurst area, evaluated the existing infrastructure and pinpointed areas needing improvement.
The key portion of the plan came in Part 4 where goals and priorities were set to effectively plan for the future.
Among the strengths identified by the group were the recent improvements to the downtown, the advocacy of local business owners and the creation of the nonprofit Hazlehurst Main Street Program which created structure for local efforts to improve the downtown area.
Among the weaknesses mentioned were economic, social and political challenges. Some property owners in the area are reluctant to improve their buildings, the sidewalks are inadequate and the lack of investment by elected bodies to address the lack of aesthetic qualities in the downtown area.
Among the opportunities was the fact that the railroad running through the downtown area created the possibility for railroad-based facilities and railroad themed businesses, expansion of and improvements to Serenity Park to address the lack of greenspace, and other opportunities to improve the downtown area.
The plan also assessed Hazlehurst’s infrastructure include water and wastewater, zoning, parking, broadband access, streets/traffic/pedestrian, and downtown businesses.
The all important Revitalization Goals included:
1. Attract diverse, sustainable businesses to the downtown, to include reviving the Downtown Development Authority.
2. Enhance the aesthetics, reduce blight and introduce a general unified appearance in the downtown, to include sidewalk and alleys, landscaping and maintenance, signage and lighting and zoning ordinance improvements.
3. Improve public access, use and walkability. While the responsibility of most of the areas identified in the section lies with the City of Hazlehurst, some of the areas can be addressed if the City re-establishes the Downtown Development Authority.
The plan closed with visual suggestions for gateway signs, building renovations, streetscape, a central park, empty parcel re-use and caboose repurpose.
Now that the plan has been developed, the Hazlehurst City Council has the responsibility to follow up with the plan if it is to produce the intended results.