See how Orchestra Partners works with local entrepreneurs to bring new life to small towns + downtown Birmingham

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Peyton, the owner and founder of Lifelyles. (Jacob Blankenship / Bham Now)

When you hear about Orchestra Partners, you probably think about their work downtown along Morris Avenue and massive projects like The Frank and the Steam Plant, but their core business is planning and redevelopment for small towns. Why? Orchestra Partners got the idea for this business when they realized some of the areas of Birmingham they were redeveloping felt like cities within a city—places like Five Points South and Avondale—and Orchestra was making development choices based on community observations. Keep reading to see how Orchestra has taken this model outside of Birmingham.

Why small towns?

Downtown Jasper
Downtown Jasper. (The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.)

While the mega-developments taking place in Atlanta, New York City and Washington, DC are certainly exciting, there’s something especially thrilling about seeing smaller cities like Jasper, Alabama kickstart their historic downtowns. According to Caroline Jenkins, an Orchestra Partners Development Manager, America’s small towns are often overlooked by traditional real estate investors.

That’s what sets Orchestra Partners apart—they work directly with small towns to bring local investors and the community together. Many of these small towns and historic downtowns have beautiful buildings that just need a breath of life after sitting vacant for years.

“We’re coming back and trying to help bring bring life to those places again and give an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to start businesses and improve the quality of life.”

Caroline Jenkins, Development Manager, Orchestra Partners

While small towns may have smaller populations, their urban areas are also denser and residents still want fun amenities, cool restaurants and cocktail bars, local retail and stimulating public spaces. There’s demand for new businesses and community members who want to support them.

Learn more about Orchestra Partners and their work in small towns.

A strategy to revitalize small towns

So, how exactly is Orchestra Partners making that happen? First, their team works with cities to create Vision Plans, which gather all the biggest and best ideas from downtown stakeholders into one direction for the urban center. Orchestra launched their planning efforts in Jasper, where they partnered with Jasper Main Street, the City of Jasper and the Walker Area Community Foundation to create a plan that connected growth on the eastern side of the city with the courthouse square—all via a waterfront trail.

When planning communities and redeveloping buildings, Orchestra Partners empowers locals however they can.

Strategically utilizing local business relationships leads to long-term success for the community in general. Wouldn’t you go shopping downtown if you knew your friend owned a business there? Plus, for a smaller town like Jasper, a market thriving with locally-owned businesses sets the tone for larger national brands to follow suit, which is a total gamechanger for the city’s real estate market.

Keeping local dollars in the local community

Downtown Jasper
Downtown Jasper. (The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.)

Another way Orchestra Partners revitalizes small towns is through structuring an equity fund so local investors can take a more direct role in redeveloping property.

“By keeping local dollars in their community and being a catalyst for change, investors can take extra pride in the financial AND aesthetic growth taking place.”

Caroline Jenkins, Development Manager, Orchestra Partners

Rather than buildings being owned and leased from out-of-town owners, community owners and investors can support the towns in which they live. Why does that matter? It increases local control and builds local wealth. A win-win for everyone involved!

Bringing new life to pockets of Birmingham

With all this talk of small towns, you may wonder how exactly Birmingham fits in. According to Caroline, Birmingham is full of “pockets” that evoke that same small-town feeling. From Morris Avenue with its laid-back yet sophisticated vibe to Avondale with vibrant and lively new openings, Birmingham is full of these corners that bring excitement to the city.

Plus, Orchestra Partners is unique. They’re one of only a few firms nationwide that offer downtown planning services specifically to small towns, and they’re distinct in that their mission is to implement the plans they create. Most planners aren’t built to implement, meaning there’s an accountability gap when the planning is complete.

What’s this look like in 2022? Orchestra Partners is starting the implementation phase in Jasper and negotiating Vision Plans with several small towns statewide.

John Boone doesn’t see their growth slowing down.

“I grew up in a small town, and I can tell you the services we provide have been needed in rural America for the last half century.”

John Boone, Principal, Orchestra Partners

Keep up with Orchestra Partners by following along on their website, Facebook and Instagram.

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