By Adam Armour | Itawamba County Times
FULTON – It’s been a year since downtown Fulton’s Playgarden Park opened to the public, arguably resuscitating the area from the brink of death.
It’s an argument Fulton Mayor Paul Walker makes gladly. Walker believes Playgarden Park, which opened in August 2010, is the heart of downtown Fulton, the cohesive element that will bring people to that area and drive the businesses there.
“That park is a key element in keeping downtown Fulton alive,” the mayor said. “There’s no doubt it’s a boon for the town. There are more people downtown now than there has been in years, and more people interested in being downtown.”
Within the past few years, there has been a resurgence in interest in America’s downtown areas. Many formal downtown areas have been, essentially, on life support since the expansion of America’s interstate system beginning in the mid-to-late 1950s.
“If you’ll look at the history of the United States, once the interstate locates near a city, the downtown area dies,” Walker said. “That’s definitely what happened here.”
But the popularity of downtown areas has been slowly on the rise. Many nearby cities like Pontotoc and Tupelo have official downtown committees actively working to promote those areas.
But Fulton lacks such a group, and has seen much of its downtown lifeblood drained. With the exception of visits to a smattering of businesses and the county’s offices, most people just used Fulton’s downtown as a passthrough to Itawamba Community College.
That is, until last year. Walker said Playgarden Park gave people a reason to stay in the downtown area. During prime summer months, the usage of the park fluctuates between an estimated 500 to 1,000 visitors a week, or 3,000 and 4,000 people a month.
The park features two playground areas for kids, several benches and umbrella-shaded tables, a grass knoll, a gazebo in which musicians can perform and a large fountain at its heart.
During this summer’s hottest days, one could drive by the park at almost any time and see children playing in the water.
Walker called it one of the most popular projects of his tenure as the city’s head.
“People just love that park; we get compliments on it all the time,” he said.
Public adoration aside, the mayor said the park attracts businesses as well. Calling it a “great economic development package for the city of Fulton,” Walker said. He added improving upon popular elements like city parks and the new Tombigbee Trail walking track drastically improves the image of the area for businesses looking to buy into it.
The mayor said the park has given the city a focal point it was sorely lacking. Citywide events like the annual Halloween event draw thousands to the downtown area; the park plays right into that, giving those people a reason to stay after the event is over.
During the recent Stand By Your Grill BBQ Championship, the park was bursting at the seams with activity – its playgrounds were covered, stage occupied and fountain swimming with kids. Walker said it was an encouraging sight, one that will be more frequently repeated in the future.
“We’re definitely going to center new functions around it,” the mayor said, adding that there will likely be more functions added during the spring. “We want to focus on that area of town. We’re going to revive that area.”