Petal vying for HGTV ‘Takeover’

By HASKEL BURNS,

Residents throughout the Pine Belt have been familiar for the last three years with Ben and Erin Napier through their HGTV show “Home Town,” in which the couple renovates and restores houses in the historic district of their hometown of Laurel.

Now, officials from the City of Petal are hoping the couple can help their city – particularly the downtown section – with a little beautification courtesy of their “Hometown Takeover,” a six-episode special set to air on HGTV in 2021. In contrast to “Home Town,” where the Napiers focus on single homes, “Hometown Takeover” will see the pair direct their attention toward an entire small city.

“We all know Ben and Erin Napier’s Laurel transformation there, and what they’ve done through HGTV, and what a change it’s made in Laurel,” said Valerie Wilson, director of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce. “So when we found out that they would be doing a similar (premise) with a city, we decided we’d love to have some help in transforming the way our city looks.”

So Wilson – with the help of Christy Tartavoulle of Local Media Solutions in Petal and Jonathan McGowan of JMac Productions – worked to put together a video highlighting various parts of the city to send in for the show’s consideration. As part of the video, the crew interviewed several downtown merchants in Petal to get their opinions on improvements to the city.

“In talking to other people, the thing that bothers us most, is that Petal is such a fabulous place to live,” Wilson said. “It’s got a tremendous school system, it’s an extremely safe city, and it’s very friendly.

“Unfortunately, the look of our downtown doesn’t reflect the kind of life we’re living here and the kind of city we are. So we’re going at it from that standpoint, that we’d love for them to help us with the process of beautifying our city so it would reflect a little more of what living here in Petal is all about.”

Given the number of cities that have sent in submissions to the upcoming show – any citizen of a small town with a population of 40,000 or less was invited to send in submissions by February 4 – Wilson knows Petal being chosen is a long shot, but that’s not stopping her from being hopeful.

“Hopefully, our video will catch their attention, but there are cities all over the country creating videos, trying to pull them to their own hometown,” Wilson said. “But I hope our ace in the hole is that we’re just 30 miles from where Erin and Ben Napier live. So maybe they don’t want to travel that much, especially since they have a new baby, so maybe this will be a way for them to have their show but not have to spend a lot of time in another part of the country.”

Tartavoulle said she liked the idea of doing the video for “Hometown Takeover” as a way to highlight Petal’s downtown section, rather than the Evelyn Gandy Parkway area, where many businesses have relocated over the last few years.

“Everybody’s so focused on Gandy, but really, Gandy is half of Hattiesburg,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize that, but we only have some of Gandy.

“So we wanted to focus on Central Avenue and Main (Street). You go over the railroad tracks onto Central, and that’s not who the people are.”

Tartavoulle and McGowan – who worked on the video free of charge – are still working on editing and putting together the submission. Because there is not yet an exact time frame for when a city will be chosen for “Hometown Takeover,” Petal officials will now wait to hear from the show regarding that status.

“I’d love to get picked, but even if we don’t, maybe we can do this video to actually show the community that these business owners and these people really want to do something,” Tartavoulle said. “So it might even spark up some opportunity with the local people to say … let’s all get together and do this, even if we don’t get picked.

“Hopefully we get picked, because the whole point is to make the entranceway and everything more attractive so that we can actually start getting some Hattiesburg business in. Everybody from Petal is going to Hattiesburg, so we need to look attractive.”