TIFTON — Tifton is in the running to be redesignated a Georgia Exceptional Main Street (GEMS).
The program, which is run through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, began in 1980 through the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a way to help save historic downtowns during the era of “mall culture,” according to Elizabeth Elliott, downtown technical specialist with the DCA, who was part of the team who conducted a site visit on June 3.
The team visited many areas in downtown Tifton, including Commerce Way and the Davis Music building, the Tifton Museum of Arts and Heritage, the Tift County Courthouse, Roberts Jewelers, city hall, the Twin Brick Loft Project and the Tift Theatre.
“GEMS was something we came up with to showcase those Main Streets that were going above and beyond,” Elliott said.
She said that this new designation process will both formalize the designation and offer cities more incentives to become a GEMS city.
When looking at GEMS candidates, Elliott said that they look for program stability, good relationships between city and county, community buy-in and a dedication to historic preservation.
“Preservation ethic (is) valuing the buildings they have,” she said. “It’s really making sure they want to not become something else but really emphasizes their unique identity. A large part of that is the built stock that every community has. A lot of people think historic preservation is just about the buildings, but it’s about the stories those buildings embody and the common experience people in the community have of those.”
She said that the Lankford Manor, which was one of the stops on the site visit, was a good example of a building that is a community touchstone, where almost everyone has a story about and some connection to the building.
“A lot of people think about the building envelope,” she said. “That gives you the sense of place, but it’s really the stories that make the community and what makes the downtown the heart of the community.”
She said that in the 80s a lot of historic buildings were razed, including in her hometown of Arlington, Texas.
“The entire downtown was razed and several Brutalist buildings were put up,” she said.
Brutalist architecture, which is known for its functional reinforced concrete and utilitarian feel, was a popular style for institutional buildings, such as public housing and governmental buildings, in the 50s and 60s.
“A lot of towns that did that are now trying to recapture that character,” she said. “They’re starting to realize, “We had that wonderful resource and we bulldozed it. We can’t get that back.’”