Writer: Now Habersham
Published August 21, 2021
If you like the changes you’re seeing in downtown Cornelia, you’re not alone. Others are noticing the town’s transformation too…in a big way.
The Georgia Downtown Association recently presented Cornelia with its top honor — the 2020 economic development award for Outstanding Community Transformation/Downtown of the Year. This overall award goes to the downtown program that has achieved a successful, preservation-based downtown revival.
Cornelia Community Development Director Jessie Owensby says it’s an honor to be recognized at the state level. She calls receiving the award “mind-blowing.”
“It’s unbelievable and quite humbling to be told that out of all the downtown communities in Georgia, Cornelia has put in the work it takes to be recognized as one of the best,” she says.
In addition to the best transformation award, Cornelia also won in the design category for “Best Placemaking” during GDA’s annual conference held August 16-20 at Brasstown Valley Resort.
This Best Placemaking award goes to a downtown organization that has implemented attractive and sympathetic improvements for a public area in the historic district. Cornelia received the award for the public-private partnership between Fenders Diner and the Cornelia Downtown Development Authority. That partnership resulted in the creation of Fenders Alley and the public greenspace called “The Yard.”
Cornelia Mayor John Borrow says it might look like Cornelia’s success has happened overnight, but in reality, it’s been the “sustained, focused efforts from multiple entities for over a decade.”
“We are so excited to be recognized for the work Cornelia has done over the last several years. There are so many moving parts contributing to the success of our city – from the vision and hard work of our city employees, especially Dee Anderson and Jessie Owensby, to the tireless work of our DDA board members, to the City Commissioners,” says Borrow.
The Georgia Downtown Association gathers annually to celebrate its members and the accomplishments of Georgia’s downtown districts. GDA members come from a variety of organizations including the Georgia Municipal Association, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government, and from downtown and Main Street communities across Georgia.
At the conference, Jessica Reynolds, Director of the Office of Downtown Development at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, said, “Most people don’t realize, even our state legislators sometimes, that downtowns are the heartbeat of Georgia’s economy. In 2020, downtown communities in Georgia had a $980 million dollar investment and created enough jobs to open three Kia plants. That’s a huge economic impact, and it’s important, and we need to tell that story.”
It’s a story Cornelia is rewriting with every new brick that is laid, new light that is strung, and every new vision that is realized in the city’s pursuit of a vibrant downtown district.
Says Owensby, “We are such a small community in comparison to others in our state, but our efforts aren’t going unnoticed, and I couldn’t ask for more than that.”