The 2021 annual report released recently by Main Street Anniston paints a portrait of an up-and-coming downtown district on the verge of becoming a tourist destination.
The report highlights economic investment, new businesses and achievements in the Model City in 2021. Anniston Main Street director Jackson Hodges spoke of the report on a recent afternoon and on the direction of downtown.
“I would say that what the report says about Main Street Anniston, just in a general sense, is that people are excited,” Hodges said, “I think we are moving in the right direction, there are more people down there, it’s brighter down there, it’s cleaner down there, it’s safer down there and we knew those fundamental principles were going to be the major keys for us in order for us to move forward with Main Street.”
By the numbers
— In 2021 Main Street Anniston hosted more than 23 events along with Fourth Fridays, which itself made a return to downtown Anniston. New events included Wacky Wednesday for children.
— Both the Noble Street Festival and Neewollah attracted more than 8,000 people each to downtown Anniston.
— The 23-plus events combined brought more than 26,000 people into downtown and had an overall economic impact of $6 million for Calhoun County.
— Eight new businesses were established in downtown Anniston in 2021, creating more than 17 new jobs. The eight new businesses brought the total count of Main Street businesses to 85, which is a 73 percent increase in new businesses from 2019-2020 and is the most new businesses in a single year since 2016.
— There were 24 private property improvements in 2021 totalling a value of $153,000.
— Over $500,000 of public investment was poured into downtown for various projects including upgraded lighting on Noble Street and West 15th Street, a new mural at 11th and Noble, pressure washing for sidewalks, resurfacing of West 15th Street. Also a facade grant program was started.
— The $500,000 represents the greatest amount of public investment into Anniston’s Main Street since the program began.
For its achievements in 2021, Main Street Anniston was awarded the Calhoun County Area Chamber & Visitors Center’s 2021 Larry K. Sylvester Small Business Advocate of the Year award, Hodges said.
Plans for 2022
Karla Eden, Main Street’s event coordinator since last March, and Hodges were enthusiastic about what 2022 will bring to downtown Anniston.
“We’re moving forward and our vision for the upcoming year is that we are more, we are more than what they remember, we are more than what they think, we’re more events, more business and more fun,” Eden said.
“We are a community,” Hodges said.
Hodges said that after the Christmas parade, a holiday reveler approached him and told him that he had been coming to the parades over the last couple of years.
“But it wasn't until now that he began to feel a small sense of community … that's what we’re trying to establish more than anything is a sense of community for our main street, when it comes to 2022,” Hodges said.
Hodges, who is also the city’s public information officer, said there are many goals and projects planned for the downtown in the upcoming year that will make the downtown area a true tourist destination.
Hodges said improvements in downtown will include installation of security cameras on every block of Noble Street, creating a downtown entertainment district and constructing a park at 11th and Noble that will feature a pavilion.
Upgraded street lights have already been installed.
“The Anniston Police Department can live view anytime and see down every way and along with the lighting that we’ve already increased, that sets the stage perfectly to introduce a true entertainment district to parts of Noble Street where individuals can walk around, have a good time, have an open container from a restaurant with its logo on the cup,” he said.
“We’re going to make sure that we keep our eyes and focus on it being a family-friendly atmosphere as well,” Hodges said.
Eden has studied other area downtowns and has brought those lessons home.
“I have recently visited Rome, I loved it, I took pictures while I was down there and then I’ve even gone to Gadsden several times and talked to Kay Moore (director of Downtown Gadsden Incorporated), I think that bringing in the entertainment district is a big start for that, to where we can show people that it’s not only safe but also fun and able to be downtown after business has closed,” Eden said.
Hodges’ enthusiasm for the city he loves is apparent.
“We are more, we are fighting the good fight for everyone that takes pride, not only in Anniston’s Main Street but in Anniston as a city in general,” he said.
“As we said back when we were interviewed when we first got this job, it’s one building at a time, and we’re going to keep carrying with that mindset, working on one area till we get it done and move on to the next thing,” Jackson said.