NEW ALBANY — Downtown New Albany's largest yearly pep session was held Thursday afternoon at The Grand. And there are no better cheerleaders to tout New Albany renaissance and growth in recent years than Terry Middleton and Mark Bliss.
Middleton has operated a successful kickboxing/boxing and self-defense school at 117 E. Market St. in New Albany since 1972. He was downtown when very little else was, during a time when the joke around town was that Pearl, Market and Bank streets resembled a ghost town.
"It was just us, Schmitt's and the smoke shop," said Middleton, who added he never considered leaving. "I love this city."
Middleton, a members of the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame and American Martial Arts Alliance Hall of Fame, was awarded the Pillar Foundation Award Tuesday at Develop New Albany's annual Pillar Awards luncheon. The award recognizes a business or organization that "has proved to be a foundation to the downtown, midtown or uptown areas."
"It feels good to get this," Middleton said of the award. "If we had something to do with someone else coming downtown to open a business, well that makes me feel good. Downtown has been a good place to be.
"We have always had a good business here."
Bliss and his family have also laid the groundwork for the revitalization of the uptown area. His parents, Richard and Mary Pat, purchased the Calumet Club in 2000. Bliss Hall on the first floor of the building opened in 2005, followed by Bliss Ballroom in 2010. Bliss Travel, which has been in business 33 years, moved to the Calumet in 2009.
Mark Bliss, who manages the facility and business, said he was "very proud" to receive the Pillar Achievement Award which recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the downtown, midtown or uptown area.
"It means a whole lot," Bliss said of being recognized. "I was a little stunned and surprised."
Other businesses recognized Tuesday included: The Olivet, Pillar Horizon Award recognizing a new or emerging business; The Stained Glass Gallery, Dragon King's Daughter and Mansion on Main, Pillar Renaissance Award which recognizes an individual, business or organization that has made a significant investment in physical improvements to downtown, midtown and uptown areas.
A special award was also given to Susan Kaempfer, who has managed the New Albany Farmers Market for 15 years. When she took over the market there were three vendors; today there are close to 70. It is considered one of largest in the area.
She credits the community for getting behind the market which led to its growth.
"I think the energy of everyone there ... everyone just got involved with the market," she said.
Develop New Albany, a Main Street Organization, began handing out Pillar Awards in 1999 but a decade earlier a group of individuals began their mission to promote the downtown, midtown and uptown areas. The downtown has seen a rebirth in the last decade and the organization has continued to concentrate on its mission — to preserve the historic downtown, partner with local businesses and promote the downtown.
"In 1990, a group of civic minded people came together and said 'What can we do?' ... they had a love for New Albany which was their common ground," DNA President Rob Dunn said. "Downtown New Albany is a better place because of Develop New Albany."
New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan praised the organization for promoting the downtown and hosting events to bring people to the area.
"They do a great job," he said.