Main Street awards given out by state leader

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Jasper Main Street handed out several awards - including a rare statewide Leadership Award to the Walker Area Community Foundation - to local entities Tuesday at the Jasper City Council meeting, as it was forced to cancel plans for its annual awards ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Mary M. Helmer, the president and state coordinator with Main Street Alabama, noted she has been going to cities to deliver the awards this year in person due to the pandemic. That has allowed her more one-on-one time to speak with recipients than there would have been at a banquet.

Helmer noted an Alabama artist is allowed to make the award each year. This year a potter from Addison was chosen.

"Next year, the maker will be Missy Miles," the Marion County artist known locally for her murals in Jasper, she said. 

The Leadership Award capped the end of the 10-minute presentation, which was live streamed online as part of the city council's meeting.

"Main Street Alabama has a Leadership Award. We don't give it out very often," Helmer said. "I think the last time was four years ago. This is an award determined by state personnel, so it is all internal. It recognizes and individual or organization who has made an outstanding leadership contribution to the statewide Main Street Alabama program.

"This year it will be presented to the Walker Area Community Foundation for supporting our pilot COVID response program in Jasper, which has now grown to the entire state. We could never have done it without your help." 

Paul Kennedy, the executive director of the foundation, is also listed on the Main Street website as a board member, treasurer and Finance Committee chairman for Main Street Alabama. He accepted the award, noting he was surprised by the honor.

"I'm smiling under this," he said under his mask. 

Earlier, the first award given in the presentation was the Main Street Hero Award. Helmer noted every community has a chance to nominate a community leader or public figure who has made an outstanding contribution to the local Main Street program, she said.

"This year, Jasper has chosen Curt Ballard, executive manager of Carl Cannon Chevrolet Cadillac Buick GMC, who continues to be a community leader," Helmer said.

She said the dealership has always seen the importance of downtown Jasper. Last November, the business contributed $10,000 to the downtown's Christmas promotion and had banners made with vintage Chevrolet cars. It was called a Carl Cannon Christmas in Downtown Jasper, in connection with their annual 12 Days of Christmas. 

"His generosity has made it possible for downtown Jasper to have Christmas banners," in addition to the veterans banners, she said. While the Christmas banners were displayed, Christmas music was played downtown to create a festive shopping season. 

The other awards are competitive awards that every community competes for, she said. 

"This year we had 247 nominations for our awards. We are only giving out 50," Helmer said. "Jasper got three. It is pretty impressive you are able to do that." 

An Adaptive Reuse Award was given for the best adaptive use of a building that has outlived its former use, including uses such as housing, office space, restaurants, businesses, meeting space, and cultural centers. 

Designs On You, which used to be renting space on the east side of the Downtown District, won the award for moving into and renovating the building at 1600 Sixth Ave. Jeremy Hagood, the owner, needed more space for his flourishing T-shirt monogram business. 

Hagood "purchased the dilapidated Praise Tabernacle Church and transform it into a retail space, as well as a factory space," she said. Originally St. Cecilia's Catholic Church before becoming Praise Tabernacle Church, the facility had gone through some problematic renovations.

As a result, Hagood gutted everything as a result, installing top grade materials, this is now considered a show piece when touring downtown. 

He purchased the old church for $60,000 and invested $140,000 in it, she said. 

A marketing award was given to Gina Scruggs, a downtown State Farm agent who has desired people coming downtown with bicycles. Scruggs and her husband Carey created and operate the city's bike share program, Slow Spokes, and market the program on Facebook.

Slow Spokes has hosted up to 150 riders of all ages on Tuesdays, including the group Tour de’Ham from Downtown Birmingham. The average number of riders is 91. 

Thanks to the Walker Area Community Foundation, Jasper Main Street also owns 10 bikes that are loaned to riders at no expense. 

Restaurants downtown benefit from the the influx of people coming to downtown on Tuesday nights, bringing in about $1,800 a week in downtown revenue. Also, homeowners set up water stations as the cyclists pass through nearby residential sections, Helmer said. 

A COVID-19 promotion award was given to Jasper Main Street's "We're Still Flourishing" campaign, with Helmer saying, "I hope we never, never, never have that category again." She noted some downtowns have held special promotions to attract people to businesses in light of the pandemic.

The award was given locally for efforts to bring people downtown during the early days of the pandemic, to keep some businesses afloat. About 31,500 hits were seen on Facebook in April as a result of the program. 

"As the pandemic became all too threatening to our downtown, all retail restaurants and  service members of Jasper Main Street were given inspirational signage, 'We're still flourishing,'" she said. "In addition, a promotion was started for people to tell how they loved specific retail or service events." 

Names were drawn from entries in individual stores and they were given $50 to spend in a shop, with Jasper Main Street reimbursing businesses, using income from the Friends of Downtown Jasper. Restaurants were not in the drawing as dining areas were closed, but they were given curbside delivery signage. 

"These are ideas that other communities are going to borrow from Jasper," Helmer said. "I know you are all proud, but I want you to know how proud we are of Jasper, as well." 

Jasper Main Street board member Josh Gates of Saturday Down South accepted the COVID-19 promotion award.