State Rep. Barry Fleming's mother had a flower shop in downtown Harlem, and he remembers playing in the mud puddles in the dirt lot behind Prather Construction.
Harlem Mayor Scott Dean (left) accepts a $55,000 check from U.S. Department of Agriculture State Director Stone Workman at a presentation ceremony at the city's administrative building. The money will be used to pave the building's parking lot.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
"And I got in trouble when I did it, probably," Fleming said Aug. 18 as Harlem city officials were presented a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant check for $55,000.
That check will be used to pave the public parking lot that stretches from behind the police station to behind Prather Construction and the city's administrative building to allow parking for visitors to the downtown businesses.
City leaders and other government officials attended the ceremony held Friday in the parking lot, where rain the night before filled potholes and left mud everywhere.
"We put in a good request last night to get the rain just to show why we needed the parking lot," Mayor Scott Dean said with a laugh. "The powers came through and there's ample evidence of why we need this (lot) paved to help out."
USDA State Director Stone Workman presented the oversize check to Dean.
"We are so delighted to be a partner with this community and the other governments and (Georgia) DOT and everyone else that makes this happen," said Workman, who, as a former city councilman from Monticello, Ga., said he understands the work that goes into getting a large project rolling. "I'm glad to be in such a powerful place that you can get the heavens to deliver rain on cue. I'm just glad I wasn't funding a sewer project here today," he said.
Paving the parking lot is only one step in a much larger project - a revitalization of downtown. The streetscape project funded by a $49,000 Georgia Department of Transportation grant, a $300,000 state DOT Transportation Enhancement Grant and $60,000 in matched funds from the city of Harlem includes redoing the streets, sidewalks and aesthetics of the four-block downtown area along Louisville Road from Forrest Street to Church Street.
"We hope that this (paving) project coupled with the downtown improvement project, that it's going to breathe the life necessary into the city of Harlem," John McClellan, the city engineer from G. Ben Turnipseed Engineers, said, adding that he has worked on plans for the project for at least two years.
Proposed improvements include widening traffic lanes to accommodate tractor trailers traveling through the city, the paved parking lot to replace curbside parking spaces that will be removed, adding an overlay material to preserve existing sidewalks and adding trash receptacles, benches, lampposts and landscaping.
Crosswalks will be added near the city's library and community center. Several wheelchair ramps also will be added to the sidewalks.
Dean said he is especially thankful to Larry Prather, who donated the property for the parking lot.
But Harlem officials aren't stopping with four blocks of improvements.
"We've got another application going in next month for the Gordon Highway portion of the same kind of streetscape project so that both roads that cross town will match and it'll be a beautiful addition to the town," Dean said.
City Manager Jean Dove said the project can go to bid for construction as soon as the city acquires the needed easements and the state DOT approves the final project plans.
"As growth comes to Columbia County, growth is coming to Harlem," Fleming said. "You can see it if you drive out any road and the new housing starts that are here. And you can see also, if you have been around for a while, the revitalization that is taking place in this area. Having to pave this parking lot is a sign of progress because we know that people are starting to come to this area.''
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