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Thriving Hammond, La. Named National Main Street Semifinalist

Thriving Hammond, La. Named National Main Street Semifinalist

Life pulses with excitement and energy in downtown Hammond, La.

Scores of restaurants with sidewalk seating tempt hungry diners. Shops showcase contemporary clothing and eclectic gifts. Spas offers luxury services and posh beauty products. The historic Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts draws patrons with well-regarded live performances. The Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center is the perfect stop for families, followed by a stroll through the Cate Street Park. A weekly farmers market showcases locally grown fruits and vegetables and artisan foods.

Here in Hammond, a city of about 20,000, the downtown presents a hive of activity appealing to a broad spectrum of the community, from young professionals to families to older residents.

It didn’t happen by accident. Years of work have gone into revitalizing Hammond’s historic core, an area that once experienced significant disinvestment. In the 1970s and 1980s, Hammond was like countless other American cities. Residents had moved out of its downtown in favor of suburbs, and retail had migrated from main street mom-and-pop stores to shopping malls. In the early 1980s, the vacancy rate for downtown properties was more than 80%.

Downtown comes back

Today, it’s about 10% thanks to a grass roots effort to revitalize downtown that began in the mid-eighties. Local residents of the historic district began a door-to-door campaign to save the area, and their efforts paved the way for the formation of Hammond’s Downtown Development District (DDD) in 1985, with a dedicated tax passing in 1987 to support the nonprofit organization. Since then, downtown Hammond has steadily marched back, becoming a pulsing center of retail, commerce and community engagement. The DDD has earned national acclaim for achieving monumental improvements.

“Hammond is one of longest standing Main Street USA programs in the state,” says DDD Executive Director Chelsea Tallo. “Preserving downtown has been a big priority for this community.”

A major accomplishment

Hammond was recently named one of 10 national semifinalists for the 2019 Great American Main Street Award, the highest recognition for commercial districts that have worked to restore economic vitality. Today, downtown Hammond boasts more than 44 restaurants, bars and businesses lining both sides of the main thoroughfare, West Thomas Street, as well as side streets. Pedestrians take advantage of sidewalk seating, lively weekend events and a regular weekend farmers market. A nearby Amtrak depot means you can arrive in Hammond by train from across the country and set out on foot to take advantage of its pedestrian friendly downtown.

Tallo says the first master plan for downtown Hammond was completed in 1990. A second took place in 2002, ensuring the revitalization process built on its initial success. Several major accomplishments along the way helped breathe life back into downtown, including the use of the state’s Historic Tax Credit Program to transform a vacant school into studio apartments, which brought a new wave of residential investment in the area. Moreover, the partnership between the city, state and Southeastern Louisiana University to restore the downtown crown jewel, the Columbia Theatre, took place in 2002. From 2005 to the present, numerous restaurants and bars opened, enhanced by the Cate Street sidewalk expansion in 2009, which fostered a culture of outdoor dining.

A new plan is underway

A third master planning process got off the ground in early 2019. Tallo says community leaders want to see the success of West Thomas Street replicated into peripheral parts of downtown.

“We have this really strong four-block radius, but we want to grow outside of that and tie into the university,” says Tallo.

The DDD will officially kick off the plan by seeking input from the entire community at a special gathering on July 13. For more information, visit dddhammond.com.

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