As part of a new push for downtown revitalization, Zachary leaders are trying to figure out how to entice more businesses and visitors to Main Street and the surrounding area.

The city recently signed a $10,000 contract with Downtown Strategies, an Alabama firm that specializes in helping cities boost economic activity in their downtowns. It's a spinoff company of Retail Strategies, which has been working in Zachary since 2017 on a separate contract focused on recruiting retailers to locations across the city. 

Downtown Strategies is expected to deliver recommendations to the city within 90 days. Representatives of the firm held meetings with officials, local business owners and other stakeholders last week.

"I was shocked at the amount of interest we had," Mayor David Amrhein said of the meetings.

He said the city is considering selling some of the property it owns along Main Street to make room for potential new retail developments. He envisions having a downtown business district with restaurants and stores — particularly those that appeal to young couples.

"You’ve got to give them some kind of entertainment power so they don’t have to ride into Baton Rouge," Amrhein said. That would generate more sales tax revenue in Zachary.

The mayor wants to see downtown become more walkable. The area already has sidewalks, he said, but speed limits on some streets may need to be lowered to make it safer for people to get from one place to another on foot.

Amrhein believes an ongoing rewrite of the city's complex development code will help attract businesses.

“You’ve got to be user-friendly," he said. "You can’t make it to where you make people jump through all kinds of hoops to come.”

The city also is doing some beautification work to try to jumpstart the process of breathing new life into downtown, he said. City workers, for example, have recently been doing more landscaping around government buildings.

A few months ago, a new awning was installed on the City Hall annex building.

More recently, City Hall proper got a new look. Its flat roof, which leaked incessantly, was rebuilt during August and September to have a pitch. Last week, the tan brick walls of the 1970s-era building were coated with bright white paint.

Awnings similar to the one on the annex will eventually be added, Amrhein said.

The city is doing the best it can to make its "outdated" facilities look "a little dressier," Amrhein said. He has often spoken at City Council meetings about his frustration with lacking the funds for new governmental buildings that he believes are sorely needed.

“You’re asking these people to come to downtown, and the city buildings look horrible. ... When you bring these people in, you don’t have but one chance to make a first impression," he said.

He's optimistic about the prospect of a rejuvenated downtown, but acknowledged there will be challenges along the way.

“It’s just a starting point, and if everything goes right, it’s a five- to 10-year build-out," he said. "It's going to take some money. It’s going to take some people to commit. You’ve got to get someone who’s going to be the first person to come.”