Georgia Impact

Hartwell wins Georgia’s downtown of the year

UGA student group Color the World Bright finishing up a mural in downtown Hartwell. (Submitted photo)

The award is the result of the efforts of multiple partners and community leaders

The University of Georgia Archway Partnership congratulates the city of Hartwell for winning Outstanding Community Transformation/Downtown of the Year at this year’s Georgia Downtown Association conference.

Public Service and Outreach staff spent time in Hartwell reviewing the impact of PSO work in the community. (Submitted photo)

The award is the result of the efforts of multiple partners and community leaders who have worked for years to improve the area. Businesses like Southern Hart Brewing that opened in 2018 and has served as an anchor for the downtown square. Nonprofits like TORCH of Hartwell that are committed to the transformation and revitalization of Hart County and have built Railroad Street Park up from nothing but a gravel railroad bed. And the Downtown Development Authority, which has been so critical in the planning for the area and helping businesses capitalize on the variety of programs available to historic downtowns through its Main Street program.

UGA’s Archway Partnership is proud to be one of these partners. Archway has worked on a number of downtown projects identified as critical to revitalization efforts by the community. Hart County has been an Archway community since 2008 and, through Archway, University of Georgia students and faculty have worked on more than 50 projects that have had a significant impact on downtown, from workforce development efforts to park designs. Last fiscal year, the Hart County Archway Partnership had a return on investment of more than $4.8 million, with $4.4 million worth of community improvement grants in partnership with Archway.

The City of Hartwell was awarded Outstanding Community Transformation/Downtown of the Year at this year’s Georgia Downtown Association conference. (Submitted photo)

No one has had a front row seat to the downtown transformation in Hartwell more than Jason Ford, the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. Ford and the DDA helped to push through the Rural Zone designation, something that has had a big impact on local investment into downtown redevelopment and has helped property owners have the flexibility to make improvements. Property owners can receive tax credits for a variety of investments, including job creation activities and renovation of properties to make them usable or increase value.

“It’s an honor to receive this award on behalf of Hartwell and all the dedicated residents and leaders who have made a difference for many years in bringing about this transformation,” said Ford. “UGA has been a critical partner for many years and we are so grateful for the work of all the students and faculty that have come to Hart County. Their impact across the county and in downtown Hartwell is already paying big dividends and has helped to build a strong foundation for the future.”

Before and after at Railroad Street Park in downtown Hartwell. (Submitted image)

Ford points to three groups of UGA Archway projects that specifically have made a big difference for downtown Hartwell: landscape architecture, engineering and murals.

The work of UGA landscape architecture students includes wayfinding signage, parking lot improvements, and, most recently, the development of Railroad Street Park, a new gem for downtown that has added public gathering space to the retail and restaurants around the square. Just a couple years ago, the space that is now the park was part of an unused rail spur that connected downtown to the rail line outside of town. Now the area contains greenspace, a play area for children, a pavilion and a pollinator garden. The park regularly hosts musical performances, community events and movie screenings.

Downtown is more colorful now thanks to murals painted through Color the World Bright—a program created by students and graduates from the UGA Lamar Dodd School of Art who paint murals across Georgia. Archway brought the group to Hartwell but it has proved so popular that businesses, such as the Hartwell Community Theater, have begun to contract with the group on their own.

Archway’s partnership with the UGA College of Engineering has led to many projects in Hartwell. From streetscape redesigns to parking improvements, these student-led engineering projects have made downtown Hartwell more accessible to visitors and residents.

The nearly completed Railroad Street Park with new improvements and downtown parking. (Submitted photo)

“We want our community to be a place where the folks who went before us and the work that they’ve done can be recognized and passed on to future generations. We want it to be warm and welcoming. We want to protect our historic resources,” said Ford. “We also want to modernize our community so that people can enjoy green space and Wi-Fi and all of the things associated with modern living, without losing our small-town charm and appeal. We appreciate the partnership with UGA in helping us get there.”

Hartwell is the second UGA Archway community in a row to win the award, following Moultrie’s win last year. The Archway Partnership is one of eight UGA Public Service and Outreach units dedicated to serving the state. UGA’s innovative approach to community engagement and the Archway Partnership earned the 2022 C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. To learn more about the Archway Partnership visit