May 8, 2017 | Spotlight

Clarkesville celebrates recovery from disastrous fire on downtown square

Three years after a calamitous fire, Clarkesville celebrated an ambitious rebuilding project that is the cornerstone of a citywide revitalization program the Institute coordinated with the Georgia Municipal Association and other partners.

Writer: Roger Nielsen

Clarkesville celebrated an ambitious rebuilding project this spring, three years after a devastating fire inspired a massive community revitalization program that the Institute of Government coordinated.

Hundreds of people crowded into the Clarkesville square to help municipal leaders dedicate three buildings the city meticulously restored after the fire in March 2014. A Your Pie restaurant and a retail outlet were ready to occupy two street-level storefronts, and all of the second-floor apartments were leased.

The fire gutted all three buildings and destroyed four businesses—and motivated city leaders to embark on an award-winning economic revival through the Institute’s Renaissance Strategic Visioning and Planning program. RSVP is a component of the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership, a community revitalization initiative with the Georgia Municipal Association, the Georgia Cities Foundation, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and other partners.

Speaking at the dedication, City Manager Barbara Kesler expressed the community’s gratitude for the support that the partnership and many hundreds of people provided after the fire.

“Clarkesville was one of the first cities to take advantage of the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership, engaging the public in creating a master plan for the reconstruction of the fire-damaged area and for downtown as a whole,” Kesler said. “The participation was phenomenal, and the resulting plan has guided the mayor and council, the Clarkesville Main Street board, the planning commission and the Downtown Development Authority in their decision-making.”

Institute faculty member Danny Bivins worked closely with municipal leaders and Renaissance Partners to create a redevelopment plan tailored to Clarkesville’s unique needs. The project included hosting public input sessions and issuing an RSVP report that reflected the community’s mutual goals and described action steps to achieve them.

With many short-term revitalization projects complete or underway, the city is now incorporating RSVP recommendations into its comprehensive plan to serve as a road map for long-term development work, according to Mayor Barrie Aycock.

“The RSVP plan provided us with the designs we needed to restore the portion of our downtown that was destroyed by fire. It also gave us the framework for a comprehensive plan that will affect our entire city,” she said.

The Clarkesville revitalization effort has earned accolades for innovation and effectiveness, including a “Four for the Future” award from the UGA Office of Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and Georgia Trend magazine.