This story originally appeared in the November 2015 edition of Georgia's Cities.
A worker applying the sign for the Berni’s on West Main restaurant that will soon open in downtown Swainsboro.
Carpenters, heavy equipment and building supplies have all been familiar sights in downtown Swainsboro lately. In the largest construction boom in downtown Swainsboro in more than a decade, the community will gain multiple newly-remodeled spaces that will serve as offices, restaurants and public facilities.
“Every town large or small has something unique in their downtown personality,” said Swainsboro Mayor Charles Schwabe. “We’ve got to capitalize on that and do some bootstrap development, one project at a time.”
Much of this improvement is located along Green Street in the downtown district. The movement was initiated with the announcement of the construction of the new Swainsboro-Emanuel County Fire Station at the northwest corner of West Pine Street and North Green Street. Over the last year, the location has been transformed into a state-of-the-art fire house that will feature administrative offices, training rooms, apparatus storage and an eight-bay garage for fire engines.
Shortly after plans for the new fire station were revealed, Swainsboro acquired the historic Dixie Theater through a donation from the family of Barbara and Tobe Karrh. Plans for the theater include historically sensitive restoration of the property to feature office space for the Emanuel Arts Council, gallery and educational/multipurpose space, and a functioning theater that will provide both live and cinematic entertainment for the public.
While the theater restoration project will operate on an extended timeframe due to fundraising efforts, construction has already begun in securing the structure of the building. A new roof and roofing system is currently being installed and light demolition of the interior has revealed the original floorplan of the theater, which had been covered in a renovation completed approximately 50 years ago in converting the space into a retail store.
On the heels of the theater and fire station projects, several privately-owned downtown buildings are also undergoing significant renovations as longtime and new downtown businesses alike look forward to the continued growth of the district.
Future development includes the third phase of the downtown streetscape project which will improve downtown corridors including Green Street where the theater and fire station are located, as well as integrate additional greenspace into the town’s gathering space, The Boneyard. The streetscape project will be completed with a TE Grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“Downtown Swainsboro is currently experiencing its highest commercial occupancy in many years, at approximately 93 percent,” said Swainsboro Director of Downtown Development Lynn Brinson. “In addition to seeing businesses return to downtown, it is especially encouraging to see this level of reinvestment into our community.”
One of the six original Georgia Main Street cities, Swainsboro rejoined the Main Street Program in 2015.