Mike Putman, the executive director of Jasper Main Street, says downtown Jasper is taking advantage of trends that are helping downtowns across the nation, …
Mike Putman, the executive director of Jasper Main Street, says downtown Jasper is taking advantage of trends that are helping downtowns across the nation, which he wants to continue to capitalize on with careful planning.
Asked how downtown Jasper has taken off with foot traffic, he pointed to national trends.
“Why? Because downtowns are cool — again,” Putman said. “What’s old is new again. Vintage is in. It is not just a Jasper thing. Downtowns are booming all over the place. Malls are closing all over the place. That is not Jasper’s fault; that is not a Jasper thing. That’s the climate right now.”
The creation of Jasper Main Street was timed perfectly, as it was created as the trend has been for people to rediscover and reinvest in downtowns. “It’s kismet. It is a perfect little marriage,” he said.
Putman remembers living in Birmingham and going to the old Pizitz “because they had the real Santa Claus.” As he grew, he watched as the downtown there go into a tailspin, as other downtowns did. Now, he enjoys watching Birmingham — another Main Street city — come back alive in its center.
In watching that, he told himself he would like to contribute to something like that in Jasper.
The entertainment district in Jasper has contributed to some of the success seen locally. The crowds of people walking around at nights at downtown restaurants indicates success in his eyes.
“Restaurants need entertainment districts,” he said. “We have to have an entertainment district for the festivals. I would say downtowns are much more inviting to restaurants knowing there is an entertainment district.”
He is also bullish about the potential for loft apartments in downtown, noting one is already set up on the top of the Ivey’s building. He said more could be had on the third floor of the Burton Building, home to Los Reyes.
Putman wants to have more of them in Jasper, pointing out that according to Main Street Alabama, people who live downtown spend more than 40 percent of their expendable income in downtown.
“When you live downtown, you shop downtown and you eat downtown,” he said. “This generation wants to be in the middle of everything. They don’t want the quiet. They want activities around them at all times.” He also noted they do not stay anywhere for a long time, especially as they work more at home.
“Main Street makes us focus on what downtown needs and what they don’t need,” he said. “We had a market analysis. That is part of the Main Street package. You can look at your market analysis and see what businesses are not going to work downtown within a 5-mile, 10-mile or 15-mile radius, and what businesses where you have leakages. You have overages (where you have too much of the same business in an area) and you have leakages.”
One leakage involves not having a shoe store that provides a wide variety of options, although a couple of stores may sell a small amount of shoes, he said.
As for Main Street’s future goals, he warned downtown still has much blight to correct and empty spaces to fill. “Let’s not kid ourselves all of that is gone, because it is not,” he said. Main Street’s plan is “a lifestyle, not a diet. You just have to keep working that plan,” which has to continue permanently.
He also wants to continue to recruit for the right businesses to go downtown, noting Belk and Walmart do not belong downtown. “You want Mom and Pop. That’s what you want downtown, and that’s what we have,” he said.
The ideal Main Street plan has retail and restaurants on the first floor and services on the second floor. The Burton Building is the best example, as office space is being leased on the second floor, he said.
However, he also is tired when people complain about the numerous lawyer offices downtown. While he would have liked some of their street-level space, he is fine with the lawyer offices, noting attorneys eat and shop there, contributing to the economy.
He noted most county seats in the nation have attorney offices around the courthouse area, and losing all the attorneys would drastically hurt the vacancy rate.
Asked about how optimistic about downtown Jasper now, he said he is very upbeat because the city government is supportive and “an army of volunteers, this board of directors is very progressive and aggressive. The businesses are pro-Main Street. I’m excited about the future of Main Street because I’ve got all these people behind me. It’s not The Mike Putman Show.”
He said their excitement comes from seeing activity at 7 p.m. at night, compared to just a few years ago.
“I never want Jasper the way it was. I don’t want to go backwards,” he said. “I want to create a new downtown that suits our needs, not the 1950s needs.” He pointed out local nostalgia only goes so far for people like him, who did not grow up in Jasper but do like a historic, vintage atmosphere instead.
Many younger people had malls as their earlier experiences anyway.