Downtown Pittsburg on Thursday March 29, 2018. (Michael Cavazos/News-Journal Photo)

Pittsburg has an award-winning downtown, and there’s talk locally about an improving economy and evidence that the best is yet to come.

Recently, the county seat of Camp County was named Best Improved Town in a County Line Magazine survey – Best of the Upper East Side of Texas 2017.

And Pittsburg was a finalist for multiple awards in the Texas Downtown Association 2017 contest – Best Public Improvement (Pilgrim Plaza), Best Downtown Partner (Pilgrim Bank) and People’s Choice Award for Best Downtown Partner (Pilgrim Bank).

City Manager Clint Hardeman said the Best Improved Town for 2017 honor focused on the public and private investments to the downtown district, highlighted by the new Pilgrim Plaza.

He said the new plaza offers a water feature, nature landscaping and seating, green space and areas for movies and entertainment. It has become a community gathering place for various activities, he said, and is backdropped by the Witness Park and Prayer Tower.

Allen Weatherford, who was executive director of the Pittsburg-Camp County Chamber of Commerce for seven years before his resignation became effective March 30, commented about an improving economy in downtown Pittsburg – an economy that’s improving and “getting better all the time.”

Positive signs of the times, he said, are the old, vacant buildings that are being sold and remodeled. The latest, he said, is the old bank building that’s being remodeled and will be home for a bistro.

Byron and Kristin Aldredge are a big part of the out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new story in downtown Pittsburg. They bought the old Pilgrim feed store that had been vacant about 50 years and turned it into Anvil Brewing and Pittsburg Feed and Seed Dance Hall.

The couple were able to take that major business step because they were winners in a unique business plan competition called PIE – Pittsburg Innovative Entrepreneur.

Hardeman said PIE “is a competition that seeks out the best unique business concepts and stacks them against each other.” Multiple rounds of scoring determine finalists, and they appear before a panel of judges to discuss their business concepts and how they can be successful in Pittsburg.

The Aldredges, as winners, were awarded a “kickstarter” of $20,000.

“Pittsburg is up and coming,” Kristin Aldredge said. “They’re trying real hard to get business here. The PIE contest, in my opinion, is the greatest thing this town has ever done to promote small business, and they need to keep it going. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s unique. It’s fun.”

The program provides financial assistance for the entrepreneur who wants to build a business. It also helps the local economy because $8,000 must be spent in Pittsburg on startup costs.

“It’s one of those things where you really have to let your idea shine,” Byron Aldredge said. “It has to be something that really is going to put the town at the forefront, as well as the business. The business must be something that’s quite innovative.

He said there were some good businesses that were worthy of winning.

“I think the town felt as a whole that something that was going to highlight Pittsburg and bring more people into Pittsburg would be the new pub, and they have been right,” Byron Aldredge said, adding that about 90 percent of the pub’s customers are visitors to the city.

He issued an invitation for other entrepreneurs to find a home for their business in Pittsburg – “a city with a very progressive mindset toward becoming a community that wants to highlight its history and welcome people in to share it.”

“My big appeal to everybody about what’s going on in downtown Pittsburg is, it’s just a great place for entrepreneurs to come, bring their business, bring their ideas, especially if they’re great ideas.”