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Donalsonville Finds BetterWay: Improving Downtown

March 6, 2013
Downtown Donalsonville will soon be blooming, thanks to a community effort to bring trees, people and businesses to the downtown area.

Headed up by Donalsonville News Editor David Maxwell, the BetterWay project began as the RiverWay Initiative, a study of the community done by the Fanning Institute of Leadership at the University of Georgia. The Seminole County Chamber of Commerce paid $50,000 for the study, but very little work resulted from the effort.

When Maxwell joined the paper in 2011, he was looking for a way to get more involved in the community and make the paper the leading voice of the community. He was shown the files from the RiverWay study and decided to take on the project of enhancing the quality of life for the people of Seminole County.

Lacking a river in Donalsonville, the project was renamed “BetterWay” with the goal of “making a better today and tomorrow and preserving our history,” said Maxwell. The first phase of the project involved planting trees in the downtown area, adding Victorian street signs, benches and sidewalk planters.

“I’m a big believer in trees and we didn’t have any,” said Maxwell. “From the air, you see all these trees in Seminole County and then Donalsonville is just a grey block.”

The BetterWay Committee and the paper put out the call for donors to contribute to the program. “We went from zero to $30,000 in just a few days,” said Maxwell. Eventually, the committee raised nearly $50,000, all in private donations, for the project. The trees were planted in December and light posts and benches installed.

Another committee took on the task of seeking out historical photos depicting downtown stores when they were thriving businesses. The committee wanted to display the old photos in the windows of vacant store fronts so people can see what used to be in the building. The call for photos was another success.

“We received hundreds from the community,” said Maxwell. Eventually, the BetterWay Committee would like to establish a museum of Seminole County history, incorporating the many items that have been donated to the effort.

The efforts so far have been fruitful, said Maxwell. “Our Christmas parade looked like something from Main Street Disney,” he said. In addition, the project is producing excitement among residents and building synergy with other groups.

“The main point is to make life better for us here,” said Maxwell. “Secondary is to make it appealing to visitors.”

The second phase of the project will involve making the northern entrance into the city more attractive by creating a park that will also include artifacts from the area’s agricultural history. Maxwell said the local schools are particularly interested in that project, as it would provide students with an outdoor classroom.

As the weather warms up, Maxwell said he can envision holding brownbag lunches in the park, showing movies on the wall in downtown and basically finding opportunities to bring more people downtown. This month, the BetterWay Committee is holding a progressive reception in the downtown as a way of saying “thank you” to the many donors and supporters.

Maxwell said the group is excited about the progress it has made – especially that the effort has so far been financed without any grant funds – but they’re realistic in their expectations. “We can’t do it all at once,” he noted. “We have to build the synergy.”

BetterWay is not just focused on Donalsonville, he added. They want to make sure they include Lake Seminole and Iron City in their plans to enhance the quality of life for the people of Seminole County.
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