HGTV upended the way its legions of fans look at real estate. In its almost 30 years on the air, the cable network helped to make open floor plans all the rage, turned small-time home flippers into celebrities, and helped a couple of struggling towns transform into real estate powerhouses.
Now the network is attempting to re-create that magic in a condensed form with its latest spinoff, “Home Town Takeover.” The six-episode limited series, which premieres on Sunday, will follow two of its biggest stars, Ben and Erin Napier of “Home Town,” as they renovate the small town of Wetumpka, AL, with the help of celebrity guests, including singer Sheryl Crow, along with well-known HGTV personalities.
Having fallen on hard times, the town was eager for the help and publicity that come with a major HGTV production. Many of the roughly 8,400 people who call Wetumpka home hope the show will help the town by attracting new businesses and residents. But can renovating a dozen local buildings and public spaces, and producing basically a six-episode advertisement for Wetumpka, alter its fate?
It’s certainly possible. Waco, TX, saw its fortunes—and real estate market—soar over the years that Chip and Joanna Gaines renovated homes there on their HGTV show “Fixer Upper.” The success of that show helped replace Waco’s national image as the site of a deadly government standoff against a cult in 1993 with that of a charming small town that’s become a vibrant tourist destination.
“Anytime a small town gets some type of exposure through a program that’s known nationally, [it] creates a high level of energy and excitement,” says real estate and finance professor Reid Cummings, at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. “If a town can continue to promote itself to be a good place to live, raise a family, or retire, then it will do well over time.”
In other words, the national exposure the town is set to receive is likely worth more than the renovations. The Napiers have already followed in the Gaineses’ footsteps, boosting the national profile of their hometown of Laurel, MS, as they remodeled neglected homes there. Now, millions of their fans will be introduced to Wetumpka, which is less than a 30-minute drive from Montgomery, AL.
“It’s too bad that small towns are so often undervalued, because you can live a beautiful life in them,” Erin Napier said in a statement.
Until now, Wetumpka’s claim to fame was a crater created by a meteor at least 80 million years ago. However, like many smaller towns, Wetumpka fell on hard times in the mid-20th century as larger employers closed and newly built highways siphoned shoppers away from local businesses. The town intensified its revitalization efforts in recent years, incorporating art into its public spaces. But a tornado that hit in January 2019 destroyed about 30 homes, several businesses, and the historic First Presbyterian Church, which had become something of a local landmark.