Lewisburg, West Virginia: Building On Beauty

Lewisburg, West Virginia: A Mayor's Perspective
By John Manchester, Lewisburg Mayor

Before our involvement with America in Bloom, Lewisburg already had in place a lot of the pieces emphasized by AIB. We had a well preserved downtown historic district, lots of floral displays, and several environmental initiatives. However, the entities responsible for these important pieces of downtown revitalization had no idea what the other groups were doing, and many times had no idea that the other groups even existed. AIB provided the cohesive framework to draw all the volunteer, civic and governmental organizations into the same room to better coordinate the beautification efforts and to designate a group project for the upcoming year that everyone could work on and take pride in accomplishing.

For example, our first pair of judges noticed that an old cemetery, prominently located in the midst of our historic district, was badly in need of repair and maintenance. This cemetery was primarily a burial ground for black slaves from our area. Everyone in town knew the cemetery looked awful, but no one had ever stepped up to say, “I will fix it.” When the local members of our AIB group (now known as Lewisburg in Bloom - LIB) assembled to go over the judges’ report, all agreed that the situation at the cemetery was a real problem and organized to upgrade the cemetery. 

With the backing of Lewisburg in Bloom, local LIB organizer Shannon Beatty made presentations throughout the community about AIB and the importance of revitalizing Lewisburg and this neglected cemetery. Money was raised, the cemetery was cleaned, and plans were made to index the graves and regrade the site. Without AIB providing the fresh set of eyes to point out this problem in our midst, I expect that cemetery would have deteriorated even more rather than serve as an asset within the historic district.

New LIB initiatives in town have helped bring together people, added color, and focused greater attention on our downtown. For example, after LIB was formed, the committee promoted the idea of a unified color scheme which has helped achieve a unified look not only in the downtown area but all over town as well.  LIB has even revived an abandoned tradition of the Tree Lighting downtown. The Tree Lighting ceremony has been a great success drawing just over 100 people during the first year. Each year the crowd grows. Caroling, cookies and hot chocolate are shared in the Center Green Space.
Our participation in AIB has given our community a renewed sense of pride in our downtown. A sense that our community was “pretty good” has been replaced by a sense of our community being “great.” Small improvements like more floral displays and splashes of color have led to more merchants and homeowners stepping up their efforts to beautify their properties.

Our community is still recovering from the 2016 flood event that took so many lives and destroyed so much property in surrounding towns and areas of our county. In the aftermath of such a disaster our communities have supported each other as never before. However, our local economy has struggled to regain its earlier strength. Our participation in AIB has allowed us to enhance the beauty of our downtown and showcase our amenities to visitors to help our recovery and to maintain our pride and appreciation in what we have.

Belpre in Bloom: A Transformative Story

Belpre in Bloom: A Transformative Story
By Lisa Collins

Belpre, Ohio, has always claimed the name “Beautiful Prairie;” however, it’s only lately we’ve reclaimed the spirit of our name.  America in Bloom has given us the impetus to make beauty a priority, and our town has come together because of that effort.

Belpre is unique in that we don’t have a downtown. We have two primary business streets, but no “hub” with charming old buildings or a town square. We have a strip center anchored by a big box store, a handful of fast food restaurants, and a lot of small, nondescript buildings. That has made it difficult to create a sense of community, and identify a particular place to beautify – until America in Bloom was introduced.

Five years ago, we began with a small committee, planting flowers. We chose the color pink, asked our neighbors to plant pink, and started promoting the idea of Belpre in Bloom. That effort took off quickly, and turned into a much larger group of interested citizens. We chose a Miss Belpre in Bloom from our only elementary school, which brought the idea to kids immediately.  We included every girl who participated in the pageant as part of the “court”, which involved parents and grandparents of ten little girls and their peers.  We put them in parades on Belpre in Bloom floats and cars.  The movement started to take off.

Scouts were invited to create projects around the beautification of our town, and school art teachers jumped on the idea, creating public art pieces covered in flowers. Kids painted tires for planters, and fire hydrants with posies, and Bloom banners were sponsored throughout town. Hanging baskets and giant flower pots were added in strategic places, most noticeably at our riverfront park, and people in neighboring towns began to take notice. A large-scale flower mural on a plain bathroom building in the park drew media attention. A greenhouse sprung up at the high school, where students planted flowers and even grew fresh salad to be used in their school cafeteria. And the beauty continued to spread.

We joined forces with the town’s tree commission, and started planting, pruning, and preserving trees.  Entrances to the city have been identified and enhanced, and Welcome to Belpre in Bloom has become a common sight.   Suddenly, we aren’t just the sleepy little bedroom community next to a larger city. We are living up to our name, the Beautiful Prairie.

Volunteers can be seen regularly, keeping public areas planted and weeded.  Our award-winning America in Bloom status has been the vehicle we needed to transform an aging little town with no real identity, to one that is indeed, a beautiful prairie, and a community constantly abuzz with activity as it continues to bloom.

AIB Means Business in Brewton, Alabama

AIB Means Business in Brewton, Alabama
By Linda Cromer, AIB Judge

Brewton, Alabama is a model of the pride and progress that typifies America in Bloom communities. Participating in the AIB program since 2014, Brewton demonstrates that when it comes to making America in Bloom work for a community, “taking care of business” the AIB way provides opportunities for businesses to take care of you.

When Frontier Manufacturing and Engineering Technologies (headquartered in Long Beach, California) started looking in summer 2016 for a production center to serve a Pensacola, Florida GE plant, contestants started lining up. Frontier manufactures high-tech aerospace, energy and architectural components and was looking for a location within a 60-mile radius of Pensacola, prioritizing relative privacy to protect proprietary processes and the availability of a quality workforce. After considering candidate communities and working with the Coastal Gateway Economic Development Alliance, Frontier officials visited a spec building in Brewton’s industrial park but instead chose to invest in an adjacent and larger pre-owned 55,000 sq. ft.  facility.

Frontier president Steven Hoekstra  was quoted in area press saying  the purchase represents a $1.5 million investment and the Brewton site was selected because the city’s “quality of life is great” and the local work ethic “outstanding”.  That means 25 new jobs in Brewton with an expectation of 200 within five years.  A winning workforce is the direct result of creating communities where talented folks want to live. 

Brewton’s burgeoning economic development isn’t unique to the industrial park. Forty-seven properties dating to the 19th and 20th centuries were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, but many sat empty or under-utilized for too many years.  Community leaders made a bold move and literally “turned around” a block of empty historic buildings  that directly face a noisy, dirty rail track by creating an attractive, accessible boardwalk  behind the buildings and essentially recreating new main pedestrian entrances. 

Façade-improvement incentives and America in Bloom efforts have enhanced   appealing and appropriate new storefronts with lush landscaping and floral displays and there is a steady stream of patrons for bustling businesses. Stroll down the boardwalk and visit a friendly provider to purchase some personal-injury insurance before stepping into a neighboring yoga studio.  Unwind yourself from the lotus position and ease on next door for a latte to reward yourself for your exertions. Preparation….perspiration….payoff.  Personal and commercial development have a lot in common.

Convenient sidewalks connect the boardwalk to other businesses in the historic district, residential neighborhoods, and recreational facilities. Since financial incentives and America in Bloom-fostered improvements have been encouraging development in the historic district, seven structures have been restored and reused and three more are in the pipeline.  Brewton, Alabama, twice named one of the 100 Best Small Towns in America, just keeps on getting better.

Wonderfully preserved, restored and repurposed buildings; state-of-the-art educational facilities; an expansive and expanding park system; attractive horticultural features including floral displays, landscapes, and trees; and a myriad of festivals and community events add up to an enviable quality of life for the residents of Brewton, Alabama.  America in Bloom participation has been a vital component in the process.

Ironton, Ohio: Planting Pride With America in Bloom

Ironton, Ohio: Planting Pride With America in Bloom
By Kristin Pategas, AIB Judge

America in Bloom’s collaborative national awards program has helped hundreds of communities realize their potential in becoming thriving places of work, play and living. Ironton, Ohio is just one of the many towns that have embraced America in Bloom principles and ideas to generate programs that provide the motivation and energy to plant pride in their community.

Ironton is a community that has experienced many economic setbacks throughout its history, from the 1970s with the closing of numerous industries due to the implementation of environmental standards, the exodus of jobs overseas, low employment, and finally the city’s fall into bankruptcy in 1982. Ironton, though, was true to its name and stood strong through these obstacles and used the promise of flowers to hearten its residents and create a symbol of rebirth. From its initial Downtown Clean-Up Days and spring plantings, Ironton discovered a path to raise spirits and rally support.

Kudos goes to sister America in Bloom community Gallipolis, OH for sharing with Ironton the guiding principles and resources of the America in Bloom program. Nine years ago Ironton in Bloom (IIB) planted the seed that has been nurtured by city government, businesses, and residents to become the catalyst for new business growth, improved property values, and a sense of pride. Ironton has seen its property values increase, derelict commercial properties redeveloped into thriving businesses, and the downtown beautified with hanging baskets, containers, decorative street furnishings, and weed-free sidewalks. This transformation not only benefits businesses and home owners, but encourages Ironton to present its best to visitors, investors, potential residents, and new businesses. Ironton has a number of future projects in the furnace: the Riverfront Park, a gateway for the new bridge over the Ohio River and the Iron Furnace Trail.

Ironton in Bloom knew in order for their dreams of a transformed community to come true, they needed to develop programs that guaranteed success, from design to funding, implementation and on-going maintenance. Too often such beautification projects in the past failed due to lack of funds and maintenance strategies. Today, nine years after its inception, IIB has an annual $50,000 budget for their floral displays supported by the city, local businesses, civic organizations and individuals. Members of IIB continue to work with the city to improve and expand Ironton's design standards to include floral and landscape requirements. They have also developed the OPT Program: Opportunity, Partnership and Teamwork, that recognizes sponsor donations and continued monetary support.

Much of the remaining open space within Ironton remains under environmental mitigation, but as these brownfields are cleaned, IIB, along with the city and other re-development agencies, have channeled revitalization efforts towards projects that benefit the community. Gateway Centre includes the city's first hotel, a family restaurant and space for a future brewery. Landscape enhancements include shade trees, floral displays, lighting, seating, bike racks and an interpretive display on the history of Ironton and the Ohio River.
To create additional public spaces, in 2010 an America in Bloom judge recommended the creation of "pocket parks", transforming vacant residential lots into green spaces. Today, a number of these green respites have become important neighborhood centers, community gardens and connection hubs for healthy walking and biking trails.

Ironton has embraced its heritage by designating three residential historic districts and restoring two historic sites for reuse: the Ro-Na Theater and the Veterans Memorial Hall. Historic home owners and churches annually open for tours and the Lawrence County History Museum provides docents in period costume and character.

Ironton in Bloom has developed an Annual Inventory Program where volunteers walk the city's streets each spring assessing cleanliness and maintenance needs including litter, weeds, sign maintenance, storm drain blockage and sidewalk repairs. These reports are passed on to the respective city departments to address as time and budget allow during the fiscal year.
Ironton is proof of the benefits of implementing America in Bloom’s framework for improvements.

AIB Communities have Holiday Appeal - Help Spread the Magic Year-Round

AIB Communities Have Holiday Appeal
Help AIB Spread the Magic Year-Round

America in Bloom communities are the most beautiful and inviting places to be this holiday season.  We invite you to join us in supporting and encouraging even more communities to become extraordinary by making a year-end gift to America in Bloom.

Help us celebrate AIB communities that are:
  • Extraordinarily charming at holiday time
  • Extraordinarily colorful 
  • Extraordinarily fun
  • Extraordinarily entertaining
  • Extraordinarily bright
Help us spread this magic year-round by making a contribution to America in Bloom

Travel and Leisure named Lewisburg, West Virginia as one of America's Best Towns for the Holidays
Holland, Michigan's Big Red lighthouse welcomes the winter weather

Guests at the tree lighting ceremony in Estes Park, Colorado toast marshmallows to make s'mores together

Greenfield, Indiana celebrates beloved literature with Dickens of A Christmas

Winter Park, Florida adorns magnificent
trees with signature globe lights
Eureka Springs, Arkansas is featured on the state's trail of holiday lights

On behalf of the entire AIB family, wishing you the most extraordinarily beautiful holiday season! 

Logan, Ohio - A Town of Transformation

Logan, Ohio - A Town of Transformation
By Barbara Vincentsen, AIB Judge

Located along the Hocking River in the heart of the Hocking Hills region in Ohio, the 200 year old city of Logan serves as the county seat and is a sought after tourist destination. Despite these advantages, the advent of the nearby shopping mall initiated an exodus of businesses from the community, hurting the downtown business district which is the heart and soul of the community.

As a community where volunteer involvement in civic life is taken as a matter of course, various organizations began to work on multiple fronts to strengthen and enrich the downtown in an effort to stem the outgoing tide. As part of that effort, in 2004 the city became a participant in America in Bloom and formed Logan in Bloom as the local arm of AIB.

With many organizations working on a wide variety of initiatives, one of the most significant rolls of Logan in Bloom has been to provide an umbrella under which people with various interests come together and work toward common goals. This has been so effective that in three of the years Logan has been involved in AIB, the city has won awards for Community Involvement.

There are many examples of the infectious nature of multiple organizations and individuals in Logan working together on projects involving floral displays in the downtown, landscape improvements throughout the city, and environmental initiatives in schools and residences under the umbrella of Logan in Bloom. Each of these stories is significant in its own right in helping to preserve and rejuvenate a once fading downtown.

However, the tale of the development of the Logan Tree Commission and the resultant accomplishments is perhaps among the most dynamic. In 2004, as the result of recommendations from AIB judges, volunteers began meeting to form the Logan Tree Commission. This effort paid off when the Commission was officially approved by city ordinance in 2005. 

In the ensuing years, and with the help of the new ordinance, the city and its volunteers were able to:
  • Collect  over $68,000 in grants and donations
  • Plant  the following:
o   141 large trees
o   500 tree seedlings
o   64 shrubs
o   3 acres of prairie
  • Offer 35 workshops to the community in which more than 700 people were educated in urban forestry
  • Control invasive species in multiple parks within the city
  • Develop a 4-acre Small Woodland Demonstration Site
  • Work with owners of businesses and residences to plant an additional 25 street trees in a coordinated effort between residents and city employees
  • Log well over 2,000 hours of volunteer time

·    In addition, the city government has allowed the commission to train park personnel who have in turn removed dangerous trees, controlled invasive species, pruned trees and provided an overall watch on the general health of trees in Logan. Local businesses have planted additional trees, contributed money and offered services at discounted rates. Homeowners, too, have planted trees and attended workshops to increase their knowledge on the care of trees. All this greening of the city helped keep the downtown alive when it was dying. Today, with the improving economy and a much more attractive streetscape, more retail establishments and restaurants are returning to the city. A small museum also joined the new group.

Logan in Bloom has continued its work in the years since 2004. In 2016, the city earned a prestigious 4 bloom rating, won the Population Category Award at the 2016 AIB Symposium and entered the Circle of Champions in America in Bloom. Quite an achievement for a city with a downtown that was dying merely 12 years ago.

Good Things are Growing in Greendale, Indiana

Good Things are Growing in Greendale, Indiana
By Linda Cromer

Dairy Mart Parking Lot "Before"
Call them stream of consciousness success stories: Problems offer possibilities that become plans that propel progress that produces pride. That’s the way we think in AIB-centric Greendale, Indiana.

Case in point: Take an eyesore of a rundown dairy mart dealing mainly in lottery tickets and candy-wrapper litter situated across a parking lot from the city utility offices. Factor in the mayor, clerk treasurer, and her assistant operating out of a second-story non-ADA compliant office with a leaky roof three blocks away. Problems offer possibilities.

Dairy Mart Rehab in Progress
Dairy Mart owes back taxes. Sheriff’s sale offers a progressive city council an opportunity to acquire the ugly duckling for little more than “egg money.” Heroic city workers gear up and gut the building. Sympathetic engineering firm partners with city to hatch drawings for new offices and meeting rooms with state-of-the art technology and environmentally-friendly features. Possibilities become plans.

Local builder comes in on time and within budget. AIB committee invests in large planters to span street side length of building and enhance front façade. Garden Club develops planting scheme, buys floral material, and installs it. AIB water girl adds the new planters to her photo-op watering repertoire. Civic engagement is lookin’ good. Plans propel progress.

Admin Parking Lot "After"
That ugly duckling developed into a swan that spread its wings to welcome residents and state officials in time to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the State of Indiana. Everything went swimmingly. Progress produces pride.

The stars line up for projects such as these when you keep your focus, and Greendale has been focused on the America in Bloom program since 2005. We have story after story of achievements large and small, because we now frame our thinking around the potential for improvement that AIB encourages by looking at ourselves through the lens of the AIB criteria. We still have stars in our eyes after 12 consecutive years of participation.

America in Bloom has become a part of OUR story, Greendale’s story. The continuing narrative of our successes through collaborative effort gave the AIB Committee a seat at the table and a big voice in developing the City of Greendale 2013 Comprehensive Plan – and it’s not a document that just gathers dust on a shelf in a closet. We use it every day as we work toward a better future for our kids and grandkids. 

It’s hard to quantify what our efforts have meant, but Economic Director Al Abdon is quick to point out, “Success in attracting new business, new residents, and new energy are, in part, direct results of the innovative efforts and quality of life impact that America in Bloom has had for Greendale.”