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Downtown Renaissance Partnership Makes a Difference Across the State

April 8, 2015  |  Shannon Ferguson
UGA College of Environment and Design Assistant Professor Douglas Pardue works with Lindsey White, one of the students in the spring semester 2015 Downtown Renaissance Planning and Design practicum. She is working on a conceptual master plan for Milledgeville’s Central City Park. They are at work in the CED design studio in the Jackson Street Building on the UGA campus.

Three years and 29 students later the Downtown Renaissance Partnership, an innovative collaboration among GMA, the Georgia Cities Foundation (GCF) and the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the College of Environment and Design (CED), is thriving and delivering results for Geor­gia cities.
 
The Renaissance Partnership features three programs: the Renaissance Strate­gic Visioning and Planning, the Down­town Renaissance Practicum Class and Downtown Renaissance Fellows. Both the class and the fellowships draw on landscape architecture, historic preser­vation and planning students from CED.
 
“Offering students experiential learn­ing opportunities while providing in­novative services to Georgia’s local gov­ernments has proven to be a recipe for success,” said Danny Bivins, Institute of Government downtown development specialist.
 
Each year three Georgia cities are chosen to participate in the Downtown Renaissance Fellows Program, which is designed to enhance downtowns through assistance and technical exper­tise provided by selected CED students. The 12-week summer fellowship sends UGA’s brightest and most talented land­scape architecture students into Georgia cities across the state. GMA, in collabora­tion with the Georgia Cities Foundation, provides financial and administrative support to city partners.
 
“I would encourage any community that hasn’t considered participating to step up and apply,” said Newnan Mayor and GMA President Keith Brady.
 
Added Bivins, “As the Fellows Program matures, we’re beginning to see the im­plementation of design recommenda­tions made by our CED students in pilot cities like Milledgeville and Porterdale.”
 
The city of Milledgeville was one of the first to benefit from the fellowship program. Milledgeville’s Main Street Di­rector Carlee Schulte said the designs of CED student Quynh Pham “inspired us,” adding, “The goal was to utilize what was already there but with new, fresh ideas.”

Pham’s design sugges­tions included renovating a downtown pedestrian tun­nel, façade improvements for city hall and improved gateway options. Now grad­uated and working full-time as a landscape designer in Atlanta, Pham said, “It was incredible to see how ex­cited city council members got during our presenta­tions. The cities were so receptive to our ideas, and the program challenges fel­lows to develop affordable solutions.”
 
And receptive they were. Earlier this year, Milledgeville completed renovations to the pedestrian tunnel, using an awning to create a storefront effect at the entry and making interior improvements such as recessed light­ing. Schulte said, “We also completed the city hall façade work and expanded Pham’s cost-effective design sugges­tions for incorporating our logo on the front of the building.”
 
Similarly, the city of Newnan, which participated in the Renaissance Fellows Program last year, is beginning to imple­ment the designs of CED student Erik Lauritsen, who looked at repurposing underutilized downtown buildings and beautifying alleyways and a bridge.
 
“We’re putting a number of Erik’s rec­ommendations into practice, and we’ve officially budgeted for the LaGrange Street bridge improvements,” said Hasco Craver, business development direc­tor for the city. In addition, Lauritsen’s plan included extending the downtown streetscape into a neighboring district by adding brick banding, street lighting and affordable landscaping options to connect the two districts.
 
“We’re also exploring Erik’s remain­ing suggestions for corridor improve­ments to a historic cemetery, designing and locating bike racks and considering guerrilla marketing tactics recommend­ed for public parking wayfinding,” said Craver.
 
The fellowship has also made a dif­ference in the city of Porterdale. CED student Kristi Korngold’s work with the city uncovered more than 200 additional downtown parking spaces available for events, and she provided streetscape de­signs that now guide the city’s landscaping efforts.
 
“We were honored to be chosen as a pilot city and were so pleased with Kristi’s work that the city extended her fellowship a second semester,” said Porterdale’s City Manag­er Bob Thompson.
 
Across these cities and others, the Downtown Renaissance Partnership has blended innovative ideas with practical solu­tions.
 
“Clearly it works be­cause we are doing it again,” said Schulte. GMA recently accepted the city of Milledgeville’s ap­plication for the 2015 Downtown Renaissance Partnership, to help create a master plan for Central City Park.
 
“If you are lucky enough to be se­lected, take full advantage of the op­portunity,” said Craver. “UGA is putting award-winning practitioners in your community; they’re young, fresh and full of ideas—don’t handcuff them.”
 
The Downtown Renaissance Partner­ship’s impact is visible in Georgia cities across the state. What may be less obvi­ous, unless you are speaking one-on-one with its participants, are the lessons learned by both the students and the local governments they are assisting. The students learn the importance of creative, practical solutions, and local governments learn that they do not have to forgo cutting-edge design to be cost-effective and practical.
 
“You just have to be creative in your implementation,” said Craver.
 
The Downtown Renaissance Part­nership is made possible through funding from the Verizon Foundation and the Georgia Power Foundation, and support from the Georgia Depart­ment of Community Affairs. For more information, contact GMA’s Director of Community Development Perry Hiott at phiott@gmanet.com.