Downtown Offers Free Space to Community College, Reaps Rewards

Like many small towns, Oneonta, AL, long struggled to bring life and tax revenues to its declining downtown. Unlike most, Oneonta had a downtown property and a plan. The city owned a vacant car dealership, and City Manager Ed Lowe believed that recruiting a college to offer classes on the site would generate much-needed foot traffic.

So Lowe approached several colleges with an offer of free space if they’d offer courses in downtown Oneonta. One, Wallace State Community College, accepted the offer.

As of early 2019, about 300 students attended classes on the campus. Welding, commercial drivers license training, and nursing are among the popular courses of study.

Downtown leaders long have prized community colleges as sources of foot traffic, and the effect can be especially important for rural downtowns. The Wallace State campus in Oneonta draws from a four-county area, and Lowe says the new crowds downtown have inspired restaurants and coffee shops to open to serve students and teachers.

“We see them in town eating lunch,” Lowe says. “It’s really made a huge difference in the foot traffic available to our downtown merchants.”

Details on attracting the college and funding building improvements appear in the March issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Click below to learn more about Downtown Idea Exchange and other resources for revitalizing downtowns and commercial corridors.

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