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Elizabeth Gilmer: Looking Forward to Coming Together

By Deanna Ryan

When Downtown Development Director Elizabeth Gilmer moved to Swainsboro with her family the thing that worried her most was whether or not her sons would be as exposed to the arts as they were in Augusta. According to Gilmer, the arts “open up a world that so many people don’t get to see.” Right off the bat, her sons found ways of becoming involved in the arts that were on their level and motivational for them. In fact, her oldest son, Jim, 38 became so involved he is still involved in plays in Savannah while her second son, Richard Gilmer, who worked behind the scenes building sets in his youth, just recently built an eight foot farm table for his family.

Over the past 30 years, Gilmer has served on many boards in different capacities from the advisory council at Swainsboro Technical College, to two-term president of the Swainsboro Pilot Club and Emanuel County Chamber of Commerce, to a still-active member of the Sunshine House Child Advocacy Center and the Mill Creek Foundation Board of Grantors. Her involvement has allowed her to understand her community from many angles.

Working with Gilmer are Downtown Development Authority (DDA) members Anna Gambrell, Margaret Anne-Garrett Almond, Nick Robertson, Del Brown, Kristin Hall and Sara Young. (The chair is currently vacant.) The DDA is charged with playing an active role in revitalizing the region through expanding cultural programming, promoting and recruiting new businesses, grant-seeking for restoration projects and providing education and outreach for local businesses.

This week The Crossroads Chronicle sat down with Gilmer to learn more about her strategy for revitalizing the Emanuel County community and historic downtown area. The Swainsboro-born director has sketched out the direction the DDA is headed, but realizes all plans are contingent on city council approval. She has a list of at least four focus items.

Gilmer’s first order of business is the theater in the Karrh Community Arts Center downtown since she sees it as the cornerstone venue which will draw a cross section of the community. “Everyone is going to want to go to the movies, especially if we have good first runs,” she says. “People are going to want to be there.” Currently she is working on a spreadsheet of what it will take to get the theater up and running. “We’re just working now at getting a layout of the costs,” she says. The current quote of 1.3 million by Mayor Greg Bennett may be closer to 1.5 million when the structure, furnishings, and all the polishing up is considered.

To help fund the theater and other projects, Gilmer is looking into grants that do not have to be paid back and is using a grant-searching program to help do so. Illuminator software has been her go-to source for it allows her to drill down to specific type of grants. “Yesterday, I actually found one for theater projects, but of course it was due Monday, so that kind of kicked it out of the running.” The DDA is a non-profit formed through the development authority board, which allows them to apply for nonprofit grants and are not bound to only applying for state, federal or city ones. Gilmer is appreciative of former Downtown Development Director Lynn Brinson for doing “a lion’s share of the work with the rural funds and opportunities we can renew.”

Number two is stewardship. She plans to call on each downtown business and get feedback on what their needs are, what they are getting, and are not getting. “Let’s develop good stewardship with our existing businesses. This is going to help us when we look at new businesses.”

Number three is to continually update the city and DDA website. She’s started requesting information to updates and join the city and chamber calendars, so when community members look they will see the same information on all pages because right now it’s not. She would also like to make sure to work closely with the Emanuel Arts Council. “I want to make sure we don’t forget the arts. I think that has to be a major part of the programming here.”

Finally Gilmer will discuss more opportunities for festivals and gatherings on the square with the city council. She wants established festivals to continue with same regularity, such as the fall festival and Christmas parade, because they bring families together. “We have to determine our next event whether it’s going to be going forward with something in the fall, or waiting until Christmas, I’d like to see us do both even if the fall is scaled down because so many kids don’t have an opportunity to get out.” She’s been talking to Denny Key who is on the Mill Creek Board with her, about a hotdog cookout on the square where everybody is invited and hotdogs and drinks are provided along with local music and local talent. “We’re going to try and keep something going on over there all the time,” she says, “I’m keeping my ears open for what people want. I know it’s not just music and food.” Anybody can contact Gilmer with ideas for upcoming events via phone 478-237-7501 or email

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