Oliver, a native of Cairo, but now a resident of Roswell in metro Atlanta, reminded the audience of all of the assets that Cairo and Grady County offer.
“Cairo just needs a good face cleaning,” Oliver said, endorsing as a good first step the downtown plan developed by Wood & Partners for the Cairo Downtown Development Authority.
According to Oliver, a plan such as the downtown plan is vital to the revitalization of not only downtown Cairo, but surrounding neighborhoods, as well .
He noted that many of Cairo’s neighborhoods are “not in good shape. There are sections of blight, poverty and trash that need to be cleaned up,” he said.
Through the eyes of this town planner and architect, Cairo in 15 years could be the green capital of Georgia, an eco-tourism destination and home to producers of high quality, organic farm products as well-known and popular as Vidalia onions.
If Oliver had his way, a major marketing effort would be launched to spotlight “Grade A Grady” organic produce, which he says would not only be highly sought after by consumers, but would be tasty fare in local restaurants that could attract diners from surrounding counties.
“The outside world doesn’t know a lot about Cairo’s exports right now,” Oliver said, but he believes that could and should change.
The keynote speaker urged the community to build on its existing nursery industries to “green up the town,” which would not only serve as a major community beautification project but would also showcase the nurseries products and be a tourism draw.
Oliver applauded the Cairo City Council’s desire to invest millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements.
He told chamber members and guests Monday night that the towns he has helped plan and create took millions and millions of dollars of investment to get to the point where Cairo is now.
“It would only take a few seeds to make this happen,” Oliver said.
A major potential investor in a plan like Oliver described are firms that develop Continual Care Retirement Communities. According to Oliver, companies have found that it is more cost efficient to care for seniors in a home setting, rather than “warehousing them” in large nursing homes or retirement homes.
Oliver says that CCRCs could secure neighborhoods and revitalize them. He said that Grady County should focus on retirees as part of its plan for future.
The town planner said that Cairo could easily become a place where children decide to return to when they complete their education.
“That should be part of the ultimate goal. To have children want to stay here, not because they have to, but because they want to,” Oliver said.
Lew Oliver, son of former Cairo residents the Rev. Billy and Naomi Oliver, is the winner of numerous national and international awards including Designer of the New American Home for the National Association of Homebuilders and Designer of the Southern Accents Show House. Most recently, his work was awarded three Best in American Living Awards and nine Obie Awards.
His design for the Grand Bohemian won Westin’s Best in Brand worldwide for five consecutive years, while the Mansion, another of his designs, is a five-diamond hotel.
For the past several years, his work has swept the gold and silver awards at the Professionalism Awards for the Atlanta Homebuilders Association.
Not only is Oliver an architect of homes and hotels, but also of whole towns. He is the town architect of Vickery, a four-hundred acre new town master planned by DPZ and Serenbe, a thousand-acre hamlet that is part of the nation’s largest eco-community.
Recently and currently, he is involved in town projects in Tornagrain, Scotland; Batan, Ecuador; Isla Pedro Gonzalez, Panama; and Arcos de la Frontera, Spain.
Outgoing Chamber Chairman Dr. Clair McCaskill thanked Oliver for sharing his vision for Cairo. “It’s exciting to see what Cairo could become. We need a vision that we can all get behind and work toward,” she said.