Take a drive on Highway 1 or Highway 80 in downtown Swainsboro and night and you’ll see the city lit up like never before.
The Chronicle sat down with Ken Warnock, CEO of the local chamber of commerce, and discussed how this came to be.
As it turns out, the lights that adorn the tops of buildings located on the square are the result of a project that was mentally conceived almost two decades ago. Commitment to the idea saw the undertaking through just in time for Christmas 2021.
According to Warnock, the overall goal of the lighting project was to improve downtown’s aesthetic and instill in both locals and passers-through that Swainsboro is cared for and loved.
“About 15 years ago, a group came forward with an idea to light the downtown area beyond your typical streetlights. Like you see at night right now, this group wanted to put lights on top of every building around the square. I’d say that was in 2005 or 2006,” Warnock explained. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have the funding for it at the time, and the intentional effort to make it happen tapered off.”
The interest resumed around 2010 when Sandersville brought to life a project of the exact same nature. A nighttime drive around the Kaolin Capital of the World’s downtown square displays a homey ambiance, thanks to lights atop buildings on three streets connecting to Highway 15.
Conversations restarted on the local level and were fruitful. The city, with Lynn Brinson lobbying for the cause as director of downtown development, purchased the cords approximately three or four years ago. However, the most expensive part of the project remained ahead: the bulbs.
The lighting project made extensive headway again last summer as the chamber and the Downtown Development Authority worked jointly to come up with the necessary funds for the next necessary purchase.
No tax dollars have been committed to the cause; instead, state and federal tourism dollars were secured for Swainsboro, which purchased the LED bulbs.
Warnock estimates the total cost of the project to have finalized around $10,000.
Next, the DDA and the chamber worked with property owners and building tenants to ensure an agreement was in place to allow the lights to be put into place. This same agreement specified who would be responsibile for the electricity cost as well as any damages, should they occur.
With the bulbs purchase complete and the agreements in place, project organizers then faced the toughest challenge of all: to sit and wait.
The shipment, Warnock explains, was sent out on time but would become stuck on a ship off the coast of Texas in the Pacific.
Fortunately, the necessities arrived in Swainsboro ahead of last year’s Christmas festivities downtown. Though the installation came down to the wire, the light switch was flipped on in time for the parade, and the result was a hit with citizens.
“We’ve gotten a lot of compliments since we finalized the project,” Warnock said. “I think it gives you this ‘hometown’ feel. Especially around Christmas, Swainsboro really felt like something from a Hallmark movie.”
The lights remained on all the time leading up to the Pine Tree Festival, which took place the first week of May.
They’re on a timer now, which powers the bulbs on in 3-minute increments so as not to overload the circuits they’re on.
The best part, Warnock says, is none of the involved buildings were penetrated during as installs took place. This is due to special planning by organizers; they ordered clips to hold the lights in place. These same clips make for quick and easy repairs when necessary.
The only downfall of the project is there are a couple buildings that couldn’t be included initially, like the courthouse. Fortunately, every roofline visible from the fountain features lights today, and an expansion may be looked at in the future.
“All in all, this project was a long time coming—but better late than never. I think it shows people, no matter if you’re from here or not, that Swainsboro put in a little extra effort downtown. We have great folks, great businesses, great churches, great schools, and great organizations—and all that makes for a great community. These lights, although they may be simple, they shine a bright light on our home and say, ‘We’re proud to be Swainsboro.’”