Porterdale Thinks Big to Preserve a Small Town

May 11, 2016

Josephine Kelly

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The Porterdale mill.

The city of Porterdale shares many of the characteristics of small towns across the state, including a limited budget, a small staff and limited re­sources for development. Yet, even with these challenges, over 10 years ago the city’s leadership committed to planning Porterdale’s future by thinking big and looking for every opportunity to create value for one of the state’s most intact mill villages.
This first step was to create man­agement practices that would em­power Porterdale’s community and economic revitalization. This resulted in a shared vision for Porterdale’s future that both set standards and provided focus for the leadership mov­ing forward.
From this approach, city leadership created a series of strategies:
  • Focus on the unique environmental, cultural and historic assets of the village
  • Address issues that cre­ate equal opportunity and social integration
  • Commit to funding strategies not normally found in a community of this size including a downtown development program, community policing and a full-time code enforcement position
  • Protect the town’s authenticity and identity
As one of the most intact mill villages in the state, Porterdale recognized this was an asset worth protect­ing and has committed to developing a strong historic preservation program. The mill cottages and commer­cial buildings, developed by the Bibb Company, give the community its identity and are at the core of Por­terdale’s brand. The village has received awards from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation for excel­lence in preservation for the restoration and adaptive use of the Porterdale Mill Lofts and for the stabilization and adaptive use of the Porter Memorial Gym ruins.
Accompanying these efforts, Porterdale developed programming to address housing issues. A full-time code enforcement position was created in 2013 re­sulting in a reduction in sub-standard housing. A con­sistent community policing strategy has created a community where residents and visitors feel safe.
Additionally, programming has incentivized a higher level of home ownership throughout the city. Porterdale was also accepted into the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing in 2013. Through this program, the city has set new goals for ad­dressing its housing is­sues. To date there has been a $1.25 million in reinvestment to revitalize Porterdale’s mill houses which has resulted in a steady increase in home own­ership.
Porterdale’s Community Development Programming
Quality-of-life is an important focus for Porterdale. These community development efforts have a focus on education and literacy; health and wellness; and cultural arts programming. Program successes include:
  • Porterdale C.A.R.E: raised funds to create two scholarships annually for tertiary study
  • The Porterdale Film Crew: utilized a Vibrant Communities grant from the Georgia Council of the Arts to host monthly film screenings that bring attendees from as far afield as metro Atlanta
  • The Yellow River Jam and Paddle: this fall event is rated as one of the top ten events for the Georgia Conservancy
  • Five Little Free Libraries: these libraries are built and resourced by volunteers
  • The Yellow River Path: Newton County’s first rail to trail program
Porterdale has also developed 30 acres of land into community parks, partnered with the nonprofit Friends of Porterdale to assist in raising funds to pre­serve the historical integrity of the city and created a community garden adjacent to city hall.
Porterdale’s Yellow River Jam and Paddle is a 7-mile flat-water paddle and favorite to residents and tourists.
As with a city of any size, economic development is of paramount importance. Porterdale’s primary eco­nomic development efforts are focused on downtown development and recreation. Porterdale was accept­ed as a Classic Main Street program in 2013. In 2016, the Porterdale Main Street board chose to focus their efforts on business retention and development and tourism. Porterdale has a valuable asset for recreation being located on the Yellow River. Thanks to a partner­ship with the Yellow Trail Group and the Porterdale YAK Club, a kayak rental business housed in the re­cently refurbished Train Depot, Porterdale is now able to utilize the Yellow River to both enhance local rec­reational offerings and to promote tourism. Work has recently begun on the Yellow River Disc Golf Course.
Porterdale city officials are confident that utilizing sound management practices, developing partner­ships and creating strategies, while also preserving the experiences unique to a small town, have paid sig­nificant dividends to their community and assures a healthy future for the reinvented mill village.

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