It all began in the 1980s when a small group of determined individuals got together with the same objective in mind: to develop Beaver Creek Walk in Downtown Bristol - a smaller version of San Antonio’s River Walk. The group of community advocates and fundraisers grew and, soon, Bristol was a Certified Main Street Community.
Before long, there were many groups of volunteers in place working on various projects, including downtown revitalization, economic restructuring and arts and entertainment. Discussing the many projects with their expanding supporter base became increasingly difficult, so consultants were brought in to help develop a vision and plan of action for Bristol. While discussing possible names for this group, the consultant made an astute observation: “You all just need to believe in yourselves,” and Believe In Bristol (BIB) was born.
Christina Blevins has served as Believe In Bristol’s executive director for seven years and has seen tremendous growth and revitalization in the downtown area. What’s their secret? “Community partnerships,” says Blevins. “We partner with everyone because those relationships allow us to do so much more than if we tried to do it alone.”
One collaborative effort in particular stands out in the downtown area: the new Birthplace of Country Music Museum, scheduled to open in the spring of 2014. The museum has already accomplished a major coup: it has been named one of only 160 affiliate programs of the Smithsonian Museum in the United States. This status will enable the museum to take advantage of traveling exhibits from the Smithsonian throughout the year.
Blevins makes a compelling case for BIB’s success: using the Main Street Four Point Approach, focusing on Organization, Design, Promotion and Economic Restructuring; rallying hundreds of individuals volunteer to provide leadership in one or more of these areas: organizing and leading special events; promoting the Livable Communities Project; providing financial support; promoting the arts to boost Bristol’s economy and cultural tourism; and many more programs.
In recent months, BIB has developed the IdeaSpace, a resource for downtown businesses and entrepreneurs; awarded the first Downtown Bristol Entrepreneur’s Prize; held a well-attended loft tour; hosted State of the Arts weekend, Art D’Vine Gallery hop, and partnered to host Border Bash, Pumpkin Palooza and Party in the Park with the Clydesdales.
It is difficult to spend much time in the Historic Downtown Bristol area without feeling some of the change that has occurred over the past few years. The spaces feel more like a neighborhood than an area zoned for business. It is more pedestrian-friendly. There is a vital downtown vibe after-hours with music venues, live theater, bars and art galleries. And there are even “busking” stops along the streets for those would-be performers.
Downtown Bristol is also gearing up for that “most wonderful time of the year” with the Downtown Bristol Annual Christmas Open House, Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Journey’s End and Christmas Parade.
The Christmas Open House, which will be held from 5 to 9 p.m., Nov. 25, sees the downtown merchants, restaurants and arts organizations coming together to officially “kick off” the holiday season. Santa Claus and carolers will be on hand, merchants will stay open late and offer special discounts, and refreshments will be served at participating locations. The event is free and open to the public.
For more information on Believe In Bristol, visit the website at www.believeinbristol.org and sign up for the weekly newsletter.