Downtown Design Assistance Q&A

September 1, 2006

What is the Downtown Design Assistance program?
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), in partnership with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and the University of Georgia, offers design and technical assistance to Georgia cities to help them improve their downtowns. Over the past 25 years, this assistance has been a key element in bringing new life to Georgia's central business districts. Since 1981, help has been provided in the areas of on-site rehabilitation consultation, hands-on presentations and hand-drawn and digital concept renderings. These services have helped thousands of business owners and downtown managers in rehabilitating and reusing their historic resources.

What is the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation?
The Georgia Trust is the nation's largest statewide non-profit preservation organization. The Trust's mission is to promote an appreciation of Georgia's diverse historic resources and provide for their protection and use to preserve, enhance and revitalize Georgia's communities. The work of the Georgia Trust is accomplished through several programs, including a revolving loan fund to acquire and resell endangered properties, a heritage education program, advocacy for preservation funding and laws, an annual Places in Peril campaign and the Main Street Design Assistance program, which is a partnership between the Trust and DCA's Office of Downtown Development.

What cities are eligible to receive assistance through the DCA/Georgia Trust design assistance program?
The program is open to any city in the state, although the first priority for assistance goes to cities with the Main Street or Better Hometown designation.

What are the Main Street and Better Hometown Programs?
In the late 1970s, the Main Street program was initiated in three Midwestern cities by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a pilot project to show that downtown development and historic preservation could go hand in hand. In 1980, after the pilot effort proved to be a success, states were encouraged to apply to participate in an expanded National Main Street program and Georgia was one of six states selected. The state agency administering the program in each state chose five cities to work with. In Georgia, DCA selected Athens, Canton, LaGrange, Swainsboro and Waycross to be the first Main Street Cities. In the mid-1990s, DCA created the Better Hometown program, essentially a Main Street program for towns under 5,000 population. Today, there are 107 Main Street and Better Hometown cities across the state. The Georgia Main Street program is administered by DCA while the national program is administered by the National Main Street Center.

What is the difference between "Main Street" and "Better Hometown" cities?
Classic "Main Street" cities are those cities with populations between 5,000 and 50,000 that follow the Main Street approach to downtown development. "Better Hometown" cities are smaller cities with a population of 500-5,000 that have received full designation as Main Street cities. In addition, DCA also administers a separate program available to larger cities (with populations over 50,000) called the Urban Georgia Network, which is designed to deal with the unique challenges and issues that come with being a larger city.

How did the design assistance program begin?
In 1981, soon after Georgia was selected as a Main Street state, the Georgia Trust received a challenge grant of $50,000 to enable the Trust to establish a rehabilitation assistance program for Main Street cities. Later, the General Assembly began providing funding for this program to the Trust. After DCA initiated the Better Hometown program, it contracted with the University of Georgia's College of Environment and Design to provide design help to Better Hometown cities. In 2001, the Main Street and Better Hometown programs were merged into a single program under DCA's administration. Over the past 25 years, the design assistance program has provided design and rehabilitation assistance to more than 3,000 projects in more than 100 cities across the state. The designs developed through this program have served as a foundation for the transformation of downtowns into thriving communities.

Who administers the design assistance program?
The program is actually administered by the Office of Downtown and Community Services of DCA. A grant administered by DCA funds the design assistance program. The Georgia Trust's design assistance program, in partnership with DCA, has been a key element in bringing new life to Georgia's downtowns.

How does the design assistance program work?
The program involves collaboration between the Georgia Trust, DCA and the University of Georgia. In administering the program, DCA works in partnership with the Georgia Trust and the University of Georgia's College of Environment and Design to provide technical and design assistance. The Georgia Trust's design manager focuses on conceptual designs and rehabilitation techniques for historic buildings. At UGA, graduate students work under the guidance of DCA's design manager to focus on landscape, streetscape, park planning and other environmental concept design projects, as well as downtown buildings. The program does not produce technical working drawings or construction drawings, only conceptual designs and recommendations. If the client city approves the concept, they are free to contract with a private design or construction firm for these needs.

What is the goal of the design assistance program?
The goal of the program is to recommend good design ideas to Main Street and Better Hometown managers, local officials, developers and business owners in order to maintain the unique historic character of their community and serve as a revitalization catalyst to improve the downtown business climate. Design experts work together to discuss the historic preservation aspects of each project and develop an approach to the most appropriate design. The end result is a conceptual design that the city, developer or business owner can then take to an architect or engineer to develop working drawings.

What other services are offered through the program?
Seminars, workshops, slide presentations and other materials are also offered by DCA and the Georgia Trust to inform Main Street programs, design committees, building owners, merchants and the general public about proper downtown design, historic preservation and building rehabilitation and maintenance.

Is there a cost to use the design assistance program?
Many services, including site visits and presentations, are provided at no charge to cities. For a nominal fee, design managers can create a conceptual design illustration. Illustrations may consist of a computer-enhanced digital image or a hand-colored rendering of a proposed project or building's exterior. The design assistance program does not provide interior planning services.

How can I request assistance through the design assistance program?
Local Main Street Program and Downtown Development Authority directors interested in the program should contact Steve Storey, Design Services Program Manager with DCA's Office of Downtown Development, at 706-583-2734. DCA will then collaborate with the Georgia Trust's design manager to review project, review project photos, and schedule and conduct site visits at the request of local Main Street Program directors, Downtown Development Authority directors, statewide regional offices and building owners to discuss appropriate rehabilitation alternatives for these structures. Design managers provide, at no charge, technical information on preservation techniques and products that would facilitate the rehabilitation work. In addition, for a nominal fee, the manager will produce a design concept consisting of a colored rendering of a building's exterior with accompanying facade notes.

Who should I contact for more information about the design assistance program?
For more information about the Georgia Trust's Main Street Design Assistance program, contact Mandy Elliott with the Georgia Trust by phone at 404-885-7817. Information is also available on the Georgia Trust's website. Cities interested in obtaining design assistance should contact Steve Storey, Design Services Program Manager with DCA's Office of Downtown Development, by phone at 706-583-2734. To learn more about becoming a Main Street or Better Hometown city, contact Billy Parrish, Director of DCA's Office of Downtown Development, at 404-679-3115.