Georgetown’s beautiful downtown is an important part of the city’s overall tourism and economic development strategy.
“I think it’s important that cities see their downtowns as a key feature. We view our downtown as an attraction,” said Lori Saunders, Director of Georgetown/Scott County Tourism, a city-county interlocal office.
Leveraging the downtown corridor as an attraction takes attention and investment. The City of Georgetown and Scott County Fiscal Court both contribute to annual upkeep for the downtown beautification efforts. The city also effectively engages other organizations and community members in the overall process and created Celebrate Georgetown, a division of the tourism office to specifically market, brand and be the “caretakers” of the downtown.
Saunders said, “We feel like it is a very important component to who we are and what our community is, and I think it shows that we have a real sense of pride about our community. You know that you have stepped into a warm and inviting place when you step into downtown Georgetown.”
The Georgetown downtown strategy resides with the tourism office; however, it could be a Main Street office, the city itself, or even a group of volunteers. For Georgetown, its collaborative model has been very successful. Saunders, who has been with tourism since 2015, said the key is to have a strategy.
Positioning downtown as a tourism attraction in and of itself is a key to engaging others in the process, particularly the downtown businesses. Saunders notes that downtown efforts benefit many different sectors in the county. She credits Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather for driving the focus on downtown.
“Our mayor and county judge-executive totally get how important a vibrant and healthy downtown is to the community,” said Saunders.
And they work together, budgeting for part of the cost of the downtown flowers on a year-round basis. The city provides typical maintenance on sidewalks, streets and other infrastructure so important to downtowns. The county provides space for an additional tourism office in the heart of downtown. Local greenhouse Bi-Water Farm provides a good price for the flowers and also waters and maintains them. Some downtown shops contact the Farm for their own flowers. The focus on local partnership works because the strategy is mutually shared and mutually beneficial for all involved.
Downtown expert and KLC conference speaker Roger Brooks said there are key elements to a beautiful downtown including beautification and activity. Georgetown demonstrates them well.
It was Mayor Prather who envisioned “Celebrate Georgetown” which markets dozens of annual events and pulls thousands of people to the heart of the city for concerts and performances, game nights, family events, festivals, bike events, the Horsey Hundred race and Georgetown Geo trot. Other events include the Seed to Feed dinner series, Snowman Selfie party, Festival of the Horse, Girlfriends Day, Small Business Saturday and much more. The goal is to have something for everyone to get people downtown throughout the year.
Georgetown/Scott County Tourism Marketing Director Bailey Gilkerson said primary marketing for Celebrate Georgetown events and historic downtown was done through digital efforts, which has over a million annual impressions through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and targeting advertising. Events like #Gtowneats Week are specifically designed to be fun family events as well as social media builders.
She said another part of Celebrate Georgetown’s mission is to engage businesses, listen to their ideas and promote them. Working together is critical for success.
Saunders said while there are a lot of small businesses in Scott County, the downtown businesses have chosen to be there. They embrace the marketing efforts through Celebrate Georgetown and are highly engaged in the activities and beautification.
“They understand the importance of curb appeal.” She said it is very rarely that a storefront opens up downtown and when it does, it’s quickly filled.
She added that Tourism/Celebrate Georgetown works collaboratively with parks & recreation and with the city directly on events such as Party in the Park, a fair-type event, as well as movies in the park and Elkhorn Float Fest.
With the help from the city and county, Saunders said tourism is able to create a larger footprint with several streets decorated with flowers - and it continues to expand. The downtown area has several seasonal and event banners and replaces American flags every year, so they are not faded or frayed.
As an appealing place to visit, shop, eat and do business, Saunders said the aesthetic of Georgetown’s downtown is an important asset for quality of life, business attraction and economic development. “It is our brand visualized,” she said.
While all of it is important, ultimately, Saunders sees the city’s efforts as much bigger than the flowers and events. By positioning their thriving downtown as a key attraction, a big part of Georgetown’s brand is the feeling and experiences it gives people.
“While we use all the modern tools in our toolbox like social media, a charming downtown is nostalgic. This is our own little piece of Americana. I think people are yearning for this in the places where they live and visit.”
“Last year, when things seemed bleak, our downtown was a bright spot, especially for our residents,” said Saunders.
“By keeping downtown beautiful and vibrant, it kept some semblance of normalcy… and even hopefulness.
“We actually flipped gears during COVID,” Gilkerson explained. “Celebrate Georgetown got creative with events like merchant window decorating contests to get people outside and give them a place to go for walks.”
“With the Window Hop, and virtual sidewalk sales, merchants’ products were constantly popping up in our social media. Even though the stores were closed to in-store shopping, it really boosted curbside pickup and online sales for our businesses during the pandemic,” she said.
“We had people who called the mayor’s office and said thank you for giving us a beautiful downtown to drive through. During the pandemic, I think it inspired our community to have hope that Georgetown, and every place, would bloom again.”
“We want our residents and businesses to be proud of our city’s downtown,” said Saunders. “And we want our visitors to feel warm and welcomed while here. Making it a beautiful, safe, inviting place is certainly part of it.”
For more information about Georgetown’s downtown efforts, visit the Georgetown/Scott County Tourism website, check out Celebrate Georgetown on social media, or contact Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather, or Lori Saunders or Bailey Gilkerson at Georgetown/Scott County Tourism.