Committee working to revitalize downtown Hazard
by Cris Ritchie — Editor
HAZARD—Some things are happening in downtown Hazard, and while you may not be able to see them just yet, a group of local residents hope that will change in the coming months.
Only a few decades ago Hazard’s downtown represented the city’s economic center. Perry County;s residents traveled there to shop, eat, or spend time. Today, that’s not so much the case. A new downtown revitalization committee is working, however, to try and bring back some of the area’s past splendor, but they say it won’t happen overnight.
“There is no magic wand to make this happen overnight,” said Robert Donnan, a professional facilitator the committee brought on to help in the early stages of their work. “What we believe is that there’s a lot of talent and leadership that can be used to leverage a volunteer effort, fundraising, and a very targeted approach.”
The committee brings together ideas from several different sources, from nonprofit groups like the Pathfinders of Perry County and the Appalachian Arts Alliance, to local residents hoping to make a difference in the local community. These early meetings have centered upon planning to create a more hospitable downtown with more business opportunities and an improved streetscape.
Donnan likened contemporary downtown Hazard to the much larger city of Asheville, North Carolina, 30 years ago, except he noted Asheville then had an even longer way to go than Hazard does now.
“They began the process of very painstakingly doing essentially what we’re doing, step by step by step, and it will take a number of years to fully make this happen,” Donnan said. “But it’s a journey. As the old cliché goes, start by taking one step after another, and hopefully in a coordinated way.”
Though the downtown revitalization committee is doing its own work, Donnan said the effort is not a new one and it will be done in conjunction with other groups, such as the Appalachian Arts Alliance which recently signed a lease to move into the former JIL Office building on Main Street, creating a sort of anchor for the change committee members hope will be coming to downtown.
The committee will host its first downtown event for the public next week with an end-of-the-season farmers’ market. Committee member Allison Tse noted the event will serve as an appreciation for the area’s farmers and their participation in the county’s farmer’s market, which wraps up another season this month. She said representatives from Holliday Farms have agreed to bring a hayride and pumpkins for painting, and she is hoping the market will attract other area farmers as well.
Discussion during the committee’s meeting on Thursday also centered on a potential art walk to coincide with the annual Christmas parade scheduled for downtown next month. These ideas are aimed to introducing the committee to the public, Tse added, and help build credibility as they move forward with other projects.
But as the committee works to overcome inertia and get the ball rolling in downtown, Donnan said it will be important to maintain that energy and not get frustrated if they hit a few speed bumps along the way.
For now, however, there seems to be plenty of initiative in moving forward.
“The people who have come to our meeting have been really enthusiastic,” Tse said. “People here really care about community and all talk about how downtown used to be, and they all have really strong feelings about what can we do to improve downtown.”
The Downtown Autumn Farmer’s Market will be held at the Hazard Amphitheatre from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 25. Anyone wishing to participate can contact committee member Jenny Williams at 438-7658, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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