Thursday, December 6, 2012
The city of LaFayette has a self-described “people person” serving as director of the city’s Downtown Development Authority and manager for its Main Street program.
Since being hired Nov. 5, Matthew Williams, 29, has been busy learning about the city, its people and history, and putting together plans for activities that will make the city more appealing to its residents and others outside the local community.
“My role is to act as the go-between for businesses, citizens and city government,” he said.
From his office on the second floor of Chattooga Academy, Georgia’s oldest brick schoolhouse, situated between Joe Stock Memorial Park and the Marsh House, Williams has a fine view of a several memorials to the city’s Civil War and earlier history, as well as the steady flow of traffic on Main Street, formerly U.S. Highway 27.
“My first goal is to be available. I have an open-door policy and invite people to come see me anytime,” he said.
“My next goal is awareness. We have a lot going for LaFayette, now it’s just a matter of letting people know.
“My third goal is events. We already have many, such as the Christmas parade, Scare on the Square at Halloween and the Freedom Festival in July, but people want more and I will be planning new events such as monthly block parties in the summer, a bluegrass festival and a new fall festival.
“Another goal is to bring new business to LaFayette. We have many selling points: infrastructure, an airport and rail line, an industrial park and, most importantly, great citizens.”
Williams said he is impressed by recent activity in the downtown area, both around the square and the section of town that stretches from the square to the Mars Theater district, that aims at revitalizing rather than razing the old “heart” of the city.
“It’s great to save these historical buildings while outfitting them for modern uses,” he said. “We already have plans in the works, such as the relocation of the caboose, and are working on a grant to extend a walking trail from the Housing Authority to Fort Cumming.”
Williams’ educational background includes bachelor degrees in history and political science from North Georgia College (which in January 2013 becomes University of North Georgia) and a master’s in public administration and police from Auburn University.
During an internship at the city of Cumming he “learned the workings of and how to manage every department” and how it is possible to integrate preservation of historical buildings into the fabric of a modern town.
“We have a beautiful downtown and its revitalization needs to maintain a fine balance between preservation and economic development,” Williams said of LaFayette. “I’m here to help.”
He said time in Cumming reinforced his notion that being accessible and willing to listen to everyone is essential for his and the local Main Street program’s success.
“I want to help bring in new businesses while maintaining the town’s traditional core,” said Williams. “Change is difficult, particularly in a small Southern town, but I think this city is going in a new direction.”