Humboldt Downtown Destination Branding with Unique Street Art and Signage

Humboldt, Tennessee

The City of Humboldt is located just minutes west of Jackson and halfway between Memphis and Nashville in Gibson County. With annual festivals and fine arts, movies and music, shopping and sporting events and everything in between, Humboldt is authentically Tennessee. Community leaders promote the opportunity to live the small-town life just minutes from Jackson and several other West Tennessee towns and cities.

Humboldt is the home of the West Tennessee Strawberry Festival held the first week of May. Established in 1934, it has gained national recognition featuring one of the largest Grand Float Parades in America and possibly the largest non-motorized parade in the world. City residents and visitors enjoy events and activities held during the week-long celebration.

Downtown Humboldt is the heart of this community and the historic, traditional business district where it all got started. With the iconic shops and businesses, the Opera House Event Hall and the Plaza Theatre, it is easy to recognize that Downtown Humboldt is unique. The historic business district, private and civic buildings, the stories and the people of Humboldt all combine to form a place rich with character.

Tennessee Downtowns Designation

In 2016, Humboldt was selected to participate in the TNECD Tennessee Downtowns program. This coincided with an effort by downtown property owners, the Chamber of Commerce, and the city to improve the downtown district for residents and visitors. As part of the selection process to become a Tennessee Downtowns community, Humboldt leaders formed a Steering Committee that continues to guide the community’s redevelopment efforts in conjunction with chamber of commerce and city leaders. During the eighteen-month program, leaders participated in training and technical assistance sessions and received a $15,000 grant for improvements to and promotion of the downtown district.

Tennessee Downtowns Grant Strategies for Streetscape and Storefront Improvements

The steering committee proposed a grant project to build Humboldt’s brand, and the activities were designed to have an immediate visual impact and address some of the most noticeable negative aspects of the downtown’s appearance. Interrelated improvements highlighted the historical significance of downtown properties and Humboldt’s identity as the “Strawberry Capital of Tennessee” through the installation of public art and signage along the gateway through the downtown. The grant project had three strategies:

Strategy One: Building identity through historical information
Element One: Historic property signage

The committee proposed to design and install up to 50 individualized signs to be placed on buildings in the project area to promote their historical significance and to purchase Tennessee Downtowns signs for gateway entries to the downtown district. The historical signs would be constructed of flat aluminum that could easily be mounted to the buildings with a consistent color scheme and fonts and branded with the city’s logo. The signs give current and historical information about each building including its uses and ownership through the years. The committee intended the Historic Property Signage project to provide interesting background to keep people engaged as they visited the downtown district.

Strategy Two: Visual improvements and marketing of downtown properties
Element Two: Pull-up banners for vacant storefronts

The committee proposed to design and produce 40 individual pull-up banners with historical photos to be used in vacant storefronts. These banners would rouse positive memories of past downtown businesses and block the view of building interiors that were vacant. Each banner would be similar in color and style and would be another tool to engage visitors by providing a more positive visual than empty or decaying building interiors. As vacant buildings are occupied, these banners can be moved to different locations and used at other community functions.

Strategy Three: Gateway and streetscape public art installations
Element Three: Install a series of stainless-steel strawberries along the Downtown Streetscape  

The committee proposed to install eight stainless-steel strawberry statues to reinforce the city’s brand identity. This public art would provide a striking visual element and serve as an interesting backdrop for events and photographs. The strawberries would be substantial enough to be outdoors and withstand the elements and would be installed on public rights-of-way so they could be maintained by the city. The strawberries would be 32 inches wide and 42 inches tall and would be designed and produced by a downtown artisan.

Community and Economic Impact

The overarching goal of all of Humboldt’s downtown investments is to make the city a vibrant destination that attracts residents and visitors who will spend money at local businesses, events, and entertainment venues. To this end, downtown leaders successfully created destination branding through public art and historical signage that is creating increased awareness and pride.

The project also is catalyzing new businesses, retail and promotion. The local utilities employee who made the strawberries and signs is now looking for a 10,000 square foot building to house his business. A new retail cluster around the Plaza Theater for “Dinner and a Movie” opportunities is promoting entertainment and dining. A new downtown mini park with benches and solar panel chargers is creating an open-air workspace. A promotional effort by three Gibson County Chambers of Commerce is creating a list of must-visit places for selfies that chamber staff hope leads to posts on various social media platforms.

Additionally, the Humboldt Chamber of Commerce and downtown committee are working together to support five popular event venues within ten minutes of downtown through focused marketing efforts and exploration of the establishment of a community commercial kitchen in downtown to serve these and attract other food and event-related businesses and tourism. Increased customer traffic will provide the greatest benefit to existing local businesses and future investors that are being recruited to the community. First year results include

Historic Plaques installed on downtown properties 50
Storefront Window Banners installed 40
Public art strawberries installed 8
Downtown Events Hosted (2017 and 2018 Christmas On Main) 2
Downtown Events Attendees 1,100
Social Media Photo Locations Created 3
New Downtown Jobs Created 51
New Downtown Businesses Created/Expanded (new and existing restaurants, coffee shop/restaurant, children’s clothing stores, bakery, art studio/classroom, ladies’ clothing boutique, radio station, insurance company expansion/merger) 10

Project Funding

TNECD Tennessee Downtowns Grant  $15,000
Strawberries Streetscape Public Art  $9,600
Historic Banners for Vacant Buildings  $3,000
Historic Information Building Plaques  $2,400

Project Leaders and Partners

Humboldt Chamber of Commerce – Executive Director  – Project Contact
City of Humboldt
USDA Rural Development
Meales Metals
Bancorp South
Humboldt Downtown Business Association
Strawberry Festival Historic Museum
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

For project information contact the Humboldt Chamber of Commerce.

TNECD Tennessee Downtowns and Façade Improvement Grant Programs

Downtown revitalization is a critical component of successful rural economic and community development. TNECD encourages revitalization and adaptive reuse of commercial buildings in downtown business districts through the Tennessee Downtowns and the Tennessee Main Street programs that provide technical assistance and funding for improvements.

For more information visit TNECD Community and Rural Development.