'Home Town Takeover': Where Are They Now?

HGTV revisits the now-thriving small town of Wetumpka, Alabama, in a special follow-up to the hit Home Town spinoff, Home Town Takeover, starring Ben and Erin Napier.

December 12, 2023

Who doesn't love a good success story? Sometimes a tale with a happy ending (or a happy beginning, as the case may be) is just what the doctor ordered. As it happens, we've got one such story for you. Wanna hear it? Here it goes.

The Backstory

Fans of HGTV's enduringly popular series Home Town, and its star co-hosts Erin and Ben Napier, know that in 2020 the series expanded with a new spinoff, Home Town Takeover. The concept for this ambitious new project: Erin and Ben lead a team of renovation pros, and some of their HGTV co-stars, as they take over and makeover an entire small town — in this case Wetumpka, Alabama.

Quite the bold undertaking, but when it comes to transforming and breathing life into an entire small town, the Napiers have some rather rare qualifications. In their hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, they’ve not only helped rescue and enhance dozens of homes, but for a number of years they also played a pivotal role in revitalizing the city’s downtown while preserving and celebrating the town’s original architectural treasures, endemic charm and historic features. Then came the next chapter.

As seen on HGTV's Home Town Takeover, hosts Ben (L) and Erin (R) Napier stand in backyard Ella Roberts' home in Wetumpka, Alabama.5

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In Home Town Takeover, Ben and Erin took on town revitalization, and the results continue to pay off.

Photo by: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

In Home Town Takeover, Ben and Erin took on town revitalization, and the results continue to pay off.

Finding Wetumpka

Following an extensive search and thousands of online entry submissions from viewers and residents of American small (population 40,000 or less) towns, HGTV landed on Wetumpka, Alabama. As we reported in July of 2020, prior to the renovations, Wetumpka itself could be characterized as a sort of diamond in the rough. With its picturesque setting and features, it served as the filming location for several Hollywood productions including The Grass Harp (based on the Truman Capote novella), The Rosa Parks Story and the fantastical Tim Burton feature, Big Fish three films with central themes tied to and drawing on the historical South.

As seen on Home Town Takeover, Ben and Erin Napier pose during the reveal of a large banner at Elmore County Court House in Wetumpka, Alabama.

Ben and Erin pose during the reveal of a large banner at Elmore County Courthouse in Wetumpka, Alabama.

Photo by: Anders Krusberg

Anders Krusberg

Ben and Erin pose during the reveal of a large banner at Elmore County Courthouse in Wetumpka, Alabama.

Now, some three years later, as featured in the HGTV special episode 'Home Town Takeover: Where Are They Now?,' the Napiers revisit the site of their massive project to explore the real-world impact and enhancements that the initiative had on this quaint and historic Southern town.

Renovating one house at a time is an awesome experience. But the chance to support an entire town, where we help bring a community back to life — that's something we always wanted to try.

Ben Napier

Quaint and historic, maybe, but, prior to the Napier-led intervention, the downtown main street was sad and mostly deserted. Other historically or aesthetically significant spots were in need of some serious love too. Over the course of the four-month process, key renovations included restaurants, shops, historic homes, public spaces, a new farmers’ market — and even a makeover for an entire downtown street.

Small-Town Renaissance

Now let's have a look at a few of the incredible things that have transpired in Wetumpka in the wake of the massive HGTV project.

According to statistics provided by the Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce, there's been a remarkable increase in tourism — with Wetumpka as serving as a full-fledged destination — since the HGTV docuseries first premiered in 2020. According to Shellie Whitfield, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, "What we've found is that people are not only coming to visit, but they're coming back and have been here two or three times. They've fallen in love with the town since the show aired.”

As seen on Home Town Takeover, Ben and Erin Napier at the Wetumpka Farmers Market grand opening and celebration.

Ben and Erin at the Wetumpka Farmers Market grand opening and celebration.

Photo by: Anders Krusberg

Anders Krusberg

Ben and Erin at the Wetumpka Farmers Market grand opening and celebration.

"With a little bit of help from friends at HGTV, and a lot of help from the community, we renovated over 12 properties in just four months," says Ben. "But what we all did there together was honestly just the first step. The real test of revitalization is what happens next."

"Our initial plan was to just give them a boost, but it became so much more," adds Erin. "It really became more of a small-town revitalization movement." And that revitalization is now a continuing saga.

The change in Wetumpka has been so incredible since Ben and Erin were here. There's been like this crazy tidal wave of awesomeness.

Shellie Whitfield, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director

Show Us the Data

Need some convincing? Here are just a few indicators of success. There are now multiple bus tours available that take visitors to prime historic spots and newly-restored spaces around Wetumpka. The town's Hampton Inn has been booked at full capacity every single weekend. (The town is looking to add more hotels in the near future.) Airbnb reservations have skyrocketed.

Buildings downtown, many of which were empty five years ago, have filled up with businesses. Very few vacancies remain. The town is getting a new, full-scale supermarket, which they've needed for some time. Perhaps most importantly, a slew of new residents, many of younger age demographics, have moved to Wetumpka from all over the country. As Erin has pointed out a number of times over the course of Home Town, that's a tremendously positive life sign for a remote or aging small town.

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Jerry's Barber Shop in downtown Wetumpka, after the renovation.

Photo by: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Jerry's Barber Shop in downtown Wetumpka, after the renovation.

The Big Fish House

Wetumpka has been a filming location for several major Hollywood films, not least of which was Tim Burton's imaginative epic Big Fish. As it happens, that house now belongs to Shellie Whitfield, the Director of Wetumpka's Chamber of Commerce, and her husband Wade. Restoration of that enchanting but previously neglected home was one of the most visible and noteworthy projects in the overall initiative.

In the town, people introduce [me] and say, 'This is Shelley; she lives in the Big Fish house and she's fixing it up.' It's something that really matters to the community. Everyone cares about the house."

Shellie Whitfield

"It was literally a movie set that she and Wade bought and moved into," says Ben. "And by helping them with that, it gave them a boost. But, it also gave the town a boost. It gave the town something to be proud of."

The second story of the house was constructed in 2003 specifically for the movie and left unfinished until Shellie and Wade moved in. The home is now a touchstone for the spirit of the community.

As seen on Home Town Takeover, Ben Napier poses outside The Big Fish House.

Ben poses outside the Big Fish House.

Photo by: Anders Krusberg

Anders Krusberg

Ben poses outside the Big Fish House.

The Big Fish House

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Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

THE REVEAL

Anders Krusberg

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Photo By: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Photo By: Anders Krusberg

Big Fish Foyer BEFORE

Big Fish Foyer AFTER

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Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

NRHK_BigFish

Photo By: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Company Street is Open for Business

As notable and high-profile as the Big Fish house renovation was, the real scope of the Wetumpka undertaking might best be seen along a stretch of Company Street, a river-adjacent street that's one of the main downtown thoroughfares.

Prior to the revitalization, Company Street and its buildings were in a sad state of deterioration. That phase of the project alone took six weeks to complete. "The Big Fish house was a huge project," says Ben, "but, honestly, it was nothing compared to Company Street. Big storefront; no business."

"And when we got there for the first time," adds Erin, "it was just … beige." Suffice it to say, Wetumpka's downtown will no longer be described as "beige."

"When we were done," says Erin, "it was very colorful. We had spent so much time on the details — the colors, the lights, making sure we picked everything perfectly."

Company Street BEFORE

Company Street AFTER

Anders Krusberg

Before photo of some of Company Street's vacant buildings and local business.

As seen on Home Town Takeover, Long Leaf Woodshop and Gallery on Company Street, Wetumpka, Alabama.

Photo By: Anders Krusberg

Though some elements of the rebuilding of downtown were outside the scope of the Napiers' four-month window allotted for the series, what was done in the Company Street revitalization served as a kickstart (astute Home Town enthusiasts get that reference) for a broader resurgence in upgrades to the downtown streets and nearby spaces.

"We are in phase three of the city's downtown streetscape process," says Shellie. "It's [nearing] completion, so we're super excited about that. We have new lamp posts, new benches and new sidewalks. We're trying to work on top of what Ben and Erin have already given us."

"Revitalizing Wetumpka was the hardest thing we've ever done," says Erin. "There's a lot of fear of failure, I think, because how do you revitalize a whole town? But, ultimately, the real test of a revitalization project is what happens after the renovation is done. And Wetumpka has become a destination. The businesses are thriving."

As seen on Home Town Takeover, Company Street, Wetumpka, Alabama.

Company Street, after renovations.

Photo by: Anders Krusberg

Anders Krusberg

Company Street, after renovations.

Check back at Home Town Takeover Central for more updates on Home Town Takeover, Home Town Kickstart and the original series Home Town, with new episodes coming in early 2024. Follow Ben and Erin on Instagram at @scotsman.co and @erinapier.

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