More and more towns are hiring downtown or main street coordinators to help facilitate revitalization efforts in downtown areas. In a partnership between the City of Hazard and the Hazard-Perry County Tourism Commission, Hazard has now joined that list.
Invision Hazard, a citizens’ action group with a focus on developing a vibrant downtown, developed the idea for the new position. They wrote the job description and worked with the City and County to make it happen.
In April 2019, Bailey Richards was hired as Downtown Coordinator. Richards has been involved with many downtown efforts over the past eight years, including volunteering with the Appalachian Arts Alliance’s HazArt, Perry County Pathfinders, Invision Hazard, and even buying and renovating a downtown building in which to live.
Her day-to-day routine is varied, from working on signage for downtown and public bathrooms, to figuring out systems for regular pressure washing, river cleanup, and much needed code enforcement for blighted buildings. Much of her work is centered on building relationships with building and business owners to intice them to fill vacant buildings in downtown Hazard. For this, Richards is primarily working from an inventory collected by Invision Hazard in which they prioritized a list of approximately 20 buildings in need of occupancy.
Much of downtown is in the floodplain, though major flooding has not happened in many years. Because of this designation, there are more restrictions on renovations and flood insurance rates can increase when a building changes ownership. Richards works with building owners to design rental agreements and with the City to give incentives to businesses so they will locate or relocate downtown, such as discounted water for a certain time period or technical assistance for their business.
“Successful brick-and-mortar locations typically sell something you can’t get online – say a tattoo shop for example,” Richards said. “Well-known institutions also do really well.”
One major project currently underway is the renovation of the old bus station into the ArtStation. The Appalachian Arts Alliance recently launched a capital campaign to raise money for renovations, which include a commercial kitchen for the community to rent out, a dance studio, an outdoor event area and a music room. They set and reached an ambitious goal to raise $25,000 in the month of July. Their overall goal is to reach $50,000 by the end of the year. The group hopes to have some parts open for use by October 2019.
It was also recently announced that the City received a $100,000 grant from the USDA to build a pavilion downtown for the Perry County Farmers’ Market. Currently, the farmers market is located in the Perry County Park, which is a fair drive from downtown.
Richards has also been behind another unique project in the community, “Random Acts of Whimsy,” an effort to point out things that are positive in the town. This has included anything from placing little boxes around town with candy and positive sayings in them and designing unique t-shirts about Hazard, to Hazard’s tiny doors project, which included Richards and others placing tiny, decorated doors on walls in the downtown area. At one point, there were more than 54 doors around town. They even decorated the Mother Goose, an iconic building in Hazard shaped like a goose, for Halloween, putting a giant cape and magnetic fangs on the building.
“These things are important to keep going, but we also really need to build up our businesses, so we can boost our tax base. That’s my key focus with this new position,” Richards said.
Richards invites any member of the public to get in touch with her about their ideas for downtown. She also works with many other groups, including the Community Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK), the Kentucky League of Cities, and more, on plans that have been developed for downtown. She is currently working with MACED and the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky on a model for being able to accept buildings as donations.
Richards runs social media for the City and County. People can follow along to stay up to date about downtown work, as well as other important happenings in the area.
Vibrant downtowns are a key component of places where people want to live, work and play. Leadership and vision around this work, like that in Hazard, is a perfect example of Appalachia’s New Day.
About: This is story #21 in the Appalachia’s New Day campaign, a new storytelling effort offered by MACED to eastern Kentucky communities. We can work with you to help identify, shape and amplify stories about businesses, programs and initiatives in your community that are helping build a new economy in eastern Kentucky. Read more stories here. Contact us or sign up here if you would like more details.