A bustling river recreation and park scene, fish fry restaurants and sports bars, beer festivals, downtown movie showings and homage to the city’s history: Porterdale’s city officials have big plans for their city, and new Downtown Director Teri Haler is responsible for pushing the agenda forward.
Hired in early July, Haler, 43, is working to get the city designated as a Georgia Main Street community to open the doors to more grants and opportunities to restore the city to the modern equivalent of its bustling mill village past.
Who is Haler?
An 11-year co-owner, along with her husband, of Current Events Productions, Haler has been involved in marketing and promotions for years, and as a downtown Covington merchant, she’s been active in Covington’s Main Street program as well as the tourism and small business committees at the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.
"With Teri’s background, her and (husband) Chris having their own business is ideal; we didn’t hire somebody right out of school," said Porterdale City Manager Bob Thomson, who added her experience on the Main Street Covington board was important. "She has a lot of contacts and business relationships, and relationships are the name of the game in business as in so many fields.
"She’s done marketing, video production, brochures and publications. All of those would help a small town like Porterdale. The great thing is Teri is as excited to work with us as we are with her."
Haler graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in visual communications.
She’s worked in custom flag design and newspaper composition, but spent the majority of her time working in the graphics department at THP Graphics, including handling a big high school football schedule poster account, and working in the marketing department for Horizon Software, where she led the in-house video project team.
At Current Events, she’s led video efforts, including producing more corporate videos in recent years.
She took the Porterdale position, she said, because the family was in transition with one son going into the U.S. Navy and another going off to college, and the opportunity also provided a "change in scenery."
The position is currently a 20-hour-a-week part-time job, and pays about $1,100 a month, including mileage and expenses, Thomson said; he hopes the position will increase to 30-40 hours a week in 2014, though he said any decision is up to the council.
Haler can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 770-786-2217.
Why Main Street?
Haler’s first task is to get Porterdale a Main Street program. She is currently going through the application process, which involves a crash course in Porterdale’s history and current situation and translating that for the Georgia Dept. of Community Affairs, which oversees the program along with Main Street Georgia.
The two groups will review applications and schedule community site visits in October and then will select cities for the program..
Main Street Georgia recently revised its program to move to a tiered system. Porterdale is applying for tier two, the Downtown Start-Up Program, basically an intense, two-year program to help a city develop a full-fledged Main Street program, Haler said.
According to Main Street Georgia’s website, the purpose of its program is to promote historic preservation, small business development, expansion of the state’s employment base, increased tourism and to facilitate public-private partnerships. There are currently 96 Main Street communities in Georgia, including Covington.
What are the goals?
The goal is a more vibrant downtown, with more recreational opportunities, more shopping and restaurants and more excitement.
Haler is still delving into what the community currently has to offer, but she has plenty of ideas for boosting the excitement level.
One of the key priorities, which is already being addressed through various efforts, is to turn the Yellow River into a destination for both river recreation and, Haler hopes, other recreation opportunities.
The state is paying to install a boat ramp on the Yellow River, while the city is paying for a smaller canoe and kayak launch point, both of which will be close to where the Ga. Highway 81 bridge crosses the river.
The city also hopes to build a park by the Yellow River, where the current gravel parking lot is, to boost activity downtown. Haler will continue to work toward those goals, but she aims to go further.
One of the best ways to bring money into a community is to convince tourists to stay overnight, so Haler is hoping to develop a campsite environment.
She also believes the city could attract enthusiasts of secondary sports, such as ultimate Frisbee, whiffle ball or similar sports, to enjoy the area.
She’d love to see a small, independent version of outfitter REI to accommodate locals and tourists.
A fish fry restaurant would be a neat themed addition to the downtown, to build off the river theme, Haler said.
"I want to help the businesses that are here and help recruit new businesses," Haler said, "find things that fill in the gaps."
Thomson said this week a sports bar is also looking at the city.
Movie showings in the revamped Porterdale Gym (which is being renovated now) and a beer festival could be possibilities down the road, she said.
Since Porterdale has no hotels or motels in the city limits, it doesn’t get any hotel/motel tax revenue, one of the biggest funding sources for Main Street and tourism activities in Covington. To help bring money to the city and fund further downtown development, Haler hopes the renovated gym and the former train depot can become bigger venues for events.
At the direction of Thomson and Mayor Arline Chapman, Haler is also uploading photos of Porterdale to local and state film location sites. The upcoming crime thriller film "Prisoners" filmed some scenes in Porterdale, which are featured in the movie’s trailer.
However, Haler said one of the city’s biggest opportunities is to play off the fact it’s a historic mill village.
"It’s the largest mill village that is almost 100 percent intact. We are registered on the national historic registry, as are almost all of the houses because they were mill houses (built by former textile mill operator Bibb Manufacturing Co.)," Haler said. "That’s a huge benefit we have over many other areas.
"Plenty of grants are looking for history, and there are a lot of tours based on touring old textile mills."