Georgia Downtown Association

Georgia Downtown Association


The Heart and Soul Bus Tour Learns Across State Lines

May 20, 2016
On May 11, the 16th annual Heart and Soul Bus Tour began its tour of three cities in Duluth. This was the third consecutive year that the tour functioned as a municipal training event and the first year it visited a city outside of Georgia.

On Wednesday morning, the tour riders arrived in Downtown Duluth for presentations and tours.  After a welcome from GMA President Mike Bodker and Georgia Cities Foundation President Mike Starr, Economic Development Director Chris McGahee shared with the riders how Duluth is “SubUrban Cool.” Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris also shared the importance of starting with “Place Keeping” before “Place Making.”

“Duluth presented our participants with a textbook approach of how to combine a plan and a vision with powerful public/private partnerships to revive and recreate a downtown,” said Starr.  “Duluth has managed a seamless incorporation of its infill development, both public sector and private, with its historic fabric to create a vibrant and cohesive downtown.”

Greenville Downtown Manager Mary Douglas Hirsch joined the tour shortly after it entered South Carolina.  As the tour drove into Downtown Greenville, through the formerly distressed neighborhood of West End and past Flour Field, Greenville’s minor league baseball stadium and replica of Fenway Park, the riders were greeted with their first view of Falls Park.  Falls Park, a greenspace that’s given Greenville national attention, is on the Reedy River and provides spectacular waterfalls once covered up by a state highway.  Tour participants enjoyed presentations from city staff and a walking tour of the business district culminating in a presentation at Falls Park by Greenville Mayor Knox White. 

Thursday morning, Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey joined the tour as it traveled to its last stop.  Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan was among a large group of city officials and staff present to greet the riders arriving at the Brenau Downtown Center.  Formerly the Georgia Mountains Center, Brenau University purchased the building to expand its graduate programs in physical therapy and other health sciences and, in doing so, provided an even stronger connection with the university and downtown.

After a walking tour of Gainesville’s historic square and business district and a guided tour of Homestar, a mortgage company that revitalized an historic high school gymnasium to house 147 employees downtown, the riders were given their final presentation of the tour.  “Gainesville was a great city to complete our bus tour,” said Georgia Downtown Association President Stephanie Aylworth.  “While they have preserved their vibrant historic square, it was helpful to see how Gainesville is addressing the kinds of challenges facing so many downtowns–particularly connectivity with the rest of the city.”

As a mobile workshop, municipal elected officials receive training credits through the Harold R. Holtz Municipal Training Institute.  Over the course of two days, 23 elected officials along with 12 city managers, downtown managers and DDA members represented 23 cities in Georgia.