by Kayla Jarrett

With small towns come small local economies. There is usually one main source of income for a majority of a small town’s population. For the town of Buena Vista, it was the Tyson Foods factory. Tyson had been a major part of the Buena Vista economy since 1995. In 2015, however, the factory closed down the plant, and 190 workers lost their jobs.

The unemployment rate drastically rose from 7.5% to 9%. This was devastating to the community. Many people were facing hard times, and a few businesses were even forced to close. Something had to change for the quiet town of Buena Vista or many of its residents would continue to financially struggle.

But little did they know that their town was home to a site that would not only boost their economy, but bring national attention to the sleepy community of Buena Vista.

Hidden within the woods on the outskirts of Buena Vista is Pasaquan, an art environment created by Eddie Owens Martin, also known as St. EOM. Recently, Columbus State University has partnered with the Kohler Foundation in order to restore and renovate this extravagant property. Since Pasaquan is located within the town of Buena Vista, it  offers the town the opportunity to develop it into a tourist site.

“This is our one chance”, says Debby Ford, President of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, “we have to make tourism a part of our economic development.”

According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the tourism industry in Georgia is the fifth largest employer in the state. With a total economic impact of $53.6 billion, it supports more than 411,000 jobs. Tourism drives significant business growth and increased revenue for companies operating in Georgia. About 14 million people visit each year in popular destinations, such as Jekyll Island, World of Coca-Cola, and the Georgia Aquarium.

The fact that the Pasaquan restoration project has received over $40,000 in grants proves the huge amount of faith that corporations and foundations have in the tourism industry of Georgia. It also shows the amount of potential that Pasaquan possesses to become one of these popular destinations.

The town of Buena Vista is already experiencing the type of business growth and economic development that accompanies the arrival of a tourist attraction.

Buena Vista has already had four ribbon cuttings for new businesses since June (2016), with a grocery store and restaurant being among them. “The square will not look the same on that day,” exclaims Penny Rogers, secretary treasurer of the Pasaquan Preservation Society.  And there are still more businesses that are on track to open in the future.

Due to the economic opportunities provided by Pasaquan, other opportunities for business have expanded to other areas of Georgia. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs in Athens has gotten involved in the renovation of the town square in Buena Vista. They are creating a conceptual design for the square that includes both a short term and long term plan.

The newly renovated Pasaquan site is being advertised in welcome centers across the entire state of Georgia. There will be rack cards displaying the site so that every visitor who steps foot in welcome centers across Georgia will have a chance to learn about the elaborate art environment that resides in Buena Vista.

Because of St. EOM’s legacy, this unknown town has quickly gained national attention. It made CNN’s “Top 16 Most Interesting Places to Visit in 2016” and #2 on the list of “Most Surprising Places” in Southern Living Magazine. People everywhere are eager to explore this buried gem that has been hiding in the woods of west Georgia.

Columbus State University Professor Mike McFalls describes Pasaquan as a “pre-Columbian psychedelic wonderland.” Eddie created his own unique world within the walls of Pasaquan, and now Buena Vista is giving the world a chance to walk through those walls and experience his utopia.

It is ironic that a man who was once feared and shunned by the Buena Vista community is now going to be their savior. “We were all sort of scared of him,” explained Carol Murray, member of the Pasaquan Preservation Society. “At the time, his lifestyle was very different.” And today, this exotic lifestyle of Eddie, expressed through art will bring money and growth to a town that is in need.