The ranking criteria for the Top 10 selection included: student population, percentage of 24- to 35-year-olds, affordable housing, walkability, education sector jobs, educational attainment, and entertainment venues.
“Combine a great college with a highly livable city and you've got something to cheer for,” according to Livability experts.
Historic Downtown Hattiesburg has a lot to do with achieving this top 10 ranking.
The Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association (HHDA) is a public-private partnership with the City of Hattiesburg, the Forrest County Board of Supervisors and the private sector. HHDA has been a designated Mississippi Main Street Community since 2000.
HHDA carries an economic development mission focusing on Downtown, Midtown, Southern Miss and William Carey University, collectively one of the most dynamic college scenes in America South. HHDA believes downtown is where every Hattiesburg journey should begin.
Community leaders are working to strengthen the bonds between Southern Miss and the downtown area, which is in the midst of a renaissance.
Downtown, one of the largest, most intact historic districts in the Southeast, features blocks of restored historic buildings with a variety of new businesses and upper floor living residences, and continues to bustle with more development.
More than 17 percent of residents living in Hattiesburg are between ages 25 and 34.
There are more than 136 lofts for those who want the total downtown living experience. Hub City Lofts are popular downtown residences located in the beautifully restored America Building and Carter Building.
“The America Building and Carter Building are both huge building renovations they have been completed recently,” said Stacy Pair, Southern District Director for the Mississippi Main Street Association.
“The Lofts in both buildings were 100% booked before the renovations were complete,” Pair said.
The Historic Train Depot and Saenger Theatre are two notable buildings that have been historically rehabilitated and host community events regularly.
The Dr. Aubrey Lucas/Col. Sheila Varnado Volunteer House, located in Historic Downtown Hattiesburg, is another notable building completely that was restored and dedicated in March 2014.
The house was secured in 2009 by R3SM, a United Way Long Term Recovery Agency, to house out-of-town volunteers who come to Hattiesburg to assist after disasters and other community service work. The 10,000 square foot, 100-year-old house located in downtown was completely renovated by R3SM, with support from local foundations and donors.
"Numerous volunteers, both in and out of state, also helped with the renovation," said Sheila Varnado, project director. "The Volunteer House is ready to serve downtown for another 100 years."
Besides those who live, work, eat, shop and volunteer in downtown, there are plenty of additional attractions to draw visitors and tourists.
Downtown hosts Golden Eagle Welcome Week, downtown tailgates, beer fests, a Downtown BBQ Showdown sanctioned by the Kansas City BBQ Society, seasonal Art Walks, and several events that draw crowds.
Other special events include Festival South, Hub Fest, Eaglepalooza, and the Historic Mobile Street Renaissance Festival.
There is also plenty of family fun offered downtown.
The Downtown Hattiesburg Farmers Market is open from 3-6 p.m. on Thursdays during market season at Town Square Park. Movie nights for the family are also held in Town Square Park.
“Thursday Night Downtown” is a weekly retail promotion to encourage residents to patronize stores that stay open later and have specials every Thursday evening.
Shopping locally is easy with the wide variety of retail businesses downtown including boutiques, coffee shops, Main Street Books, art galleries, gift stores, a yoga studio and fitness and spa stores.
The music scene has also really taken off with The Thirsty Hippo as a downtown anchor of live local music. The owners, Brad and Sarah Newton, started the “Live after Five” concert series at Town Square Park from 5-9 p.m. every Friday in October.
Southern Prohibition Brewing, one of the state’s first microbreweries is located in downtown and opens weekly for tours and tastings.
Other places of interest include the Hattiesburg Zoo and the African American Military History Museum.
You can dine and find great entertainment at the Oddfellows Gallery, The Venue/The Bakery Building, Vicki’s on Walnut, The Boco, Brownstone’s, 206 Front, the Jackie Dole Sherrill Community Center and the Hattiesburg Cultural Center.
Start with downtown and experience The Hub City from the “inside-out”.
More information at http://downtownhattiesburg.com/.
By Jeannie Zieren, Director of Community Relations