Cornelia Main Street reaccredited: Program attracts businesses, reinvestment

For the twelfth straight year, Cornelia Main Street has earned its accreditation from the national Main Street America program. To qualify, communities must meet a strict set of standards that promote economic development through preservation and community engagement.

“Main Street accreditation is very important for rural downtowns like Cornelia. It helps keep the vision of the city at the forefront, and it provides a framework for the Downtown Development Authority and the city staff to stay on track in accomplishing stated objectives,” says Jessie Owensby, who, as Cornelia’s Community Development Director, oversees the city’s Main Street program and staff.

According to Main Street America, on average, for every dollar a Main Street program spends to support operations, it generates $24.07 of new investment back into its downtown community.

In 2022, Main Street Cornelia facilitated projects that resulted in eight new downtown businesses, 89 new jobs, and over $1 million in reinvestment.

Cornelia is one of 862 accreditated Main Street programs in the country – and one of only 104 in Georgia.

2022 achievements

In addition to the eight new businesses that opened in downtown Cornelia last year, several commercial properties underwent redevelopment.


Scrap Savvy Designs


Alabaster’s Tea Bar

Cornelia Food Store

Habersham Oil & Tire

Downtown Mercantile

Main Street Emporium

Onward Auto.


The Stovall Building on North Main Street was redone, and work began on the old Habersham Hardware building on Larkin. The owners of the former Regions Bank building are turning its main floor into flex office space.

To make the downtown area more appealing, the city installed new bike racks and planters and completed work on the Wyly Street retaining wall. The Cornelia Train Museum completed restoration of its TF X5 and Southern Railway cabooses, and the city upgraded signs and façades.

In recent years, Cornelia has turned increasingly to hospitality and tourism to inject new life into downtown. Community events are a big draw. Last year, the city hosted Cornelia Summer Nights, the annual concert, the Big Red Apple Festival, Downtown Trick or Treat, the Fire on the Mountain Parade, and Christmas in Cornelia.

Main Street staffers organize these events. With only three of them – Owensby, Main Street Manager Noah Hamil, and Peter Pontes with Historic Sites – the work would be impossible without the help of volunteers.

“We utilize volunteers every month for as much as possible,” says Owensby. “Everyone on our vision committee, our downtown development authority, and in the entertainment district are volunteers.”

The Appletree Alley Streetscape project and Bigg Daddy’s are on Owensby’s list of the top 5 Main Street projects since 2015. (

She says volunteers contributed over 536 hours last year. That sort of community buy-in is central to Main Street’s success and annual accreditation.

“We literally do not have the funds or other resources to make anything happen in this city without volunteers and civic engagement.”

Looking ahead

Asked to list Main Street Cornelia’s top five achievements since she started working with the program in 2015, Owensby lists, in no particular order:

  • The creation of Cornelia’s Entertainment and Historic Districts;
  • Appletree Alley Streetscape project;
  • Redevelopment of the old Community Bank & Trust building into Community Brew & Tap;
  • Creation of Fenders Alley and public greenspace;
  • Recruitment of Bigg Daddys Restaurant & Tavern, which Owensby calls “the catalyst anchor to our downtown district.”

Even with all that’s been accomplished, Owensby says there’s still much more work to be done.

“I want to see downtown Cornelia grow and thrive while preserving its charm and historic essence. I want to help achieve smart growth along the highway but preserve our residential neighborhoods and revitalize them. I want us to solve our affordable housing crisis through smart innovation and creative strategy, and I want to sustain and enhance our quality of life that our residents and taxpayers enjoy.”

The Community Development Director says there are many new projects in the works behind the scenes to help with transportation needs, revitalization, quality of life, housing, aesthetics, and more.

“Every day, we ask ourselves what we can do to improve these aspects of our taxpayers’ lives…. And then we do it,” she says before adding, “Stay tuned for what’s to come!”

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