Singer/producer Marc Anthony is credited for coining the phrase, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s a phrase that Rome Downtown Development Director Aundi Lesley has probably thought about on several occasions over the past three years because Lesley says that she thinks she has the best job in Rome.
Lesley, originally from Dallas, Georgia, came to Rome from Carrollton in August of 2020 and can’t believe three years have passed. Lesley came to Rome with a Business Administration degree from the University of West Georgia and is nearing completing her Master’s in Public Administration from Jacksonville State University.
One of the things Lesley likes most about her job is that she can completely focus on all things downtown, helping to maintain the momentum of the central business district, which has been picking up steam for nearly three decades. “I find that people feel very strongly about what happens in our downtown, and I think that’s because people feel such a sense of ownership,” Lesley said. Downtown is nostalgic. “They’ve grown up coming downtown and watched it evolve over the years.” Lesley is quick to add the sense of ownership and love people have for Downtown Rome is also one of the most challenging aspects of her job. People feel strongly about what happens here, which sometimes can be polarizing. Often, what we do and the decisions we make are under a microscope. She uses the public concern over Rome’s Open Container ordinance as a recent example. Ultimately, that proved to be very positive without negative consequences,” Lesley said.
It might surprise, even shock, some to hear Lesly proclaim that she does not believe Rome has a parking problem. “We have plenty of parking inventory,” Lesley said. People have got to adjust to not being able to park directly in front of the store they want to run into or go up to the second or third level of any of the three major parking decks that serve downtown, on Third Avenue, Fourth Avenue, or Sixth Avenue. “We realize as development continues it could get to the point where we have legitimate parking problems, so we are constantly talking and thinking, and exploring options for the future.”
After three years on the job, Lesley said she believes downtown is ripe for a nice breakfast spot. Many people who live and work in the central business district cite the desire for a good breakfast eatery. A shop that serves breakfast and lunch, but not dinner, could be a good opportunity for an adventurous entrepreneur.
If there is one thing Lesley could wave a magic wand over, it might be the speed at which the government can get things done. She looks across the Oostanaula River to the River District, West Third Street, and North Fifth Avenue, which are prime examples. “We want to be good stewards of tax dollars and make the best decisions for our citizens. However, sometimes that means things can be delayed,” Lesley said. “At some point it will come to fruition but often takes a little longer than we had hoped.”
Lesley is thankful for passionate volunteers who help keep Rome’s downtown a thriving community.
Events such as the First Friday concerts and the Fiddlin’ Fest bring thousands of people downtown but do take some effort to manage. “We could not make our large events happen without our volunteers,” Lesley said. Anyone interested in helping the Downtown Development office with major events in the new year can visit the DDA webpage, www.downtownromega.us, to discover volunteer opportunities.
Wherever possible, Chandler said the company uses local facilities and vendors to help the Rome and Floyd County economy. Uniforms are screen printed locally, and the company has acquired the former Evans Construction facility off the Alabama Highway for its warehousing. The company has converted approximately 5,000 square feet of that warehouse space to USDA-approved space for storing commissary food items.
The USDA-approved space is important to the company’s latest venture, “The Call Store.” The company has software in jails and prisons across the region that allows inmates to special order goodies like chips and crackers, which are delivered to the institutions once a week.
Expanding beyond the corrections was an easy decision.
Hard Time is marketing items for use across the healthcare industry. It also partnered with the University of Georgia to offer custom food containers with the Bulldog’s logos, anything to impress a recruit!
The leadership team constantly looks for ways to expand services and make the company’s operation more efficient for its clients. Pierce, in particular, has had much success through the years due to this dedication to customer service.
When you say the days of exemplary customer service are gone, you haven’t been to the Hard Time Products offices on Broad Street or the warehouse out the Alabama Highway.
A Walk Down Memory Lane
As you walk down Broad Street, you may notice black and gold plaques near the entrances of historic buildings. In partnership with the Rome Area Heritage Foundation, the Rome DDA created a Historic Plaque Program. The program recognizes the construction date of the building as well as its original use. The program celebrated the installation of the 45th and final plaque in June 2023. The plaques are a point of interest to Romans and visitors, showing the many lives of the buildings.