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Return to: 2007 Feature Stories

CLIENT: MACTEC, Inc.

FEB. 1, 2007: CE News.com

DOWNTOWN MASTER PLAN BRINGS NEW VITALITY TO HISTORIC CARROLLTON, GA

Some people find their new homes just by driving around in a community they find appealing. If a buyer sees an intriguing property late on a Sunday afternoon, he or she will have immediate questions about the square footage, the number of bathrooms and the price. How can a buyer get that information without calling and leaving a message or a real estate broker's office and waiting for a call back?

The city of Carrollton, Ga., located about 35 miles west of Atlanta, was established in 1826 on land that was ceded to Georgia by Creek Indians. The historic city, population 21,010, is the Carroll County seat and home to the University of West Georgia and the Southwire Company, among numerous other local employers and community institutions. Though easily within commuting distance to Atlanta via Interstate 20, Carrolltons substantial economic and educational base allows its residents to find work, education, and recreation locally.

Carrollton has been designated a "Main Street City" since 1985. The Main Street district encompasses the 26-block downtown area. A recent resurgence of downtown businesses is evident, though Carrolltons downtown experienced a cycle of decline in past decades following the development of shopping centers at the edges of the city. Fortunately, according to Georgia historic preservation expert Paul Simo, who worked with The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, the traditional forms of the core downtown buildings and the quality of their (sensitively maintained) historic materials afford incredible flexibility for rehabilitation and adaptive use, creating new vitality in a unique environment.

"Beginning about 2001, there was a great interest in restoration of the historic downtown buildings. Carrolltons active Main Street program played a key role and brought in support from The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and other groups," said Simo. "One by one, building owners sought design assistance for façade restorations and then invested in their properties. Five years later, the cumulative effect is dramatic, with nearly all of the façades around the square having a fresh, traditionally influenced appearance."

Simo added that owners are still learning the value of saving original elements through repair rather than replacement. Some of the pioneer businesses that started five years ago did not make it, but new businesses, from restaurants to coffee shops to professional offices, have moved in to fill their places. A key component to downtown Carrolltons success is the fact that property owners are taking stewardship of their buildings much more seriously. They recognize that the value of a unique and historic environment is so different from the typical modern shopping center.

Carrolltons steady population growth and the renewed downtown business activity have contributed to some common urban challenges—in particular traffic, a shortage of parking, and demand for public gathering spaces. To meet these challenges and also to plan ahead for anticipated continuing development, the city launched a comprehensive, $13 million downtown master plan, developed by MACTEC, Inc., that, once implemented, will accommodate an expansion to the Carroll County courthouse, maintain vehicular movement through downtown, add more parking and public spaces, and improve aesthetics with numerous landscape and streetscape improvements. About half of the master plan is funded by a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that was passed by voters in 2003; the remainder is expected to come from various state and federal grants and programs. The plan is also consistent with the boundaries of the Main Street district.

According to Erica Studdard, Carrolltons planning and zoning administrator, the project is being built out in three stages, with the first phase concentrating on expansion of the Carroll County courthouse and construction of a parking deck at the southeast corner of Tanner Street and Mill Street.

"The courthouse is running out of room and the community wanted to make sure that the facility stayed downtown since it anchors the surrounding area," Studdard said. "A significant number of retail shops and professional buildings are based downtown because of the courthouse."

It is envisioned that the courthouse expansion will not only preserve the buildings historic character, but also provide new security measures for the courthouse, judges, and employees under provisions established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. However, perhaps the greatest challenge that has been overcome does not so much concern the design or security requirements of the Carroll County courthouse expansion but rather the basic planning decision to keep the facility in its downtown location.

In many comparable communities, county governments have opted to construct new courthouse facilities well outside of traditional downtown locations, for reasons such as availability of large tracts of land that can accommodate sprawling buildings as well as extensive surface parking lots. Contrary to this trend, Carroll County and Carrollton have committed to maintain the downtown location for the courthouse and to make the necessary investments in downtown infrastructure to support its expansion.

For example, because the amount of open land for parking in the courthouse area is limited, the city proposed constructing a parking deck in a location that will be convenient for staff and visitors. Adjacent to the parking deck, a pedestrian and vehicle alley will provide connection from the expanded courthouse to Rome Street, near city hall. In combination, the expanded courthouse and associated improvements are expected to create a long-term boost for downtown Carrollton.

Another issue that the downtown master plan addresses is the need for increased public gathering space. Unlike many historic towns that have a courthouse square or public green at their center, Carrolltons somewhat unique plan and subsequent road development resulted in the center of town being an intersection. Recent streetscape improvements have enhanced the parking areas at the four corners of the "square" but there is no functional greenspace at the town center. Some have proposed routing traffic around the square to close the intersection and create a public greenspace; however, this is not a feasible solution because of the cost and complication of rerouting major streets with heavy traffic volume.

A feasible alternative has been included in the master plan. Combined with the planned parking deck near the courthouse expansion will be a new public park and amphitheater, creating a formal civic focal point near the center of downtown but off of the square and shielded from traffic by buildings. In addition to creating a venue for entertainment such as outdoor movie showings that would be impossible on the square because of traffic, locating a park on land that is currently an asphalt parking lot will add another dimension to the surrounding properties, creating two potential fronts for retail activity.

Key aspects of the downtown master plan include the following:

  • Develop a public greenspace near the proposed parking deck. The conceptual design calls for a level public lawn on the upper (northern) half and an outdoor amphitheater on the lower half. The public lawn/amphitheater will provide a downtown park space for festivals and events and be a catalyst for continued revitalization and redevelopment of surrounding properties.
  • Install a public plaza with a fountain at the corner of Maple Street and Newnan Street.
  • Install street trees and furnishings throughout the downtown, specifically including Rome Street, Old City Hall Avenue, College Street, and around the new performing arts center.
  • Redesign downtown parking lots to maximize capacity and add landscape screening.
  • Develop a pedestrian "spine" alley, paved with brick and designated as a pedestrian-friendly area that will extend from the courthouse and across Bradley Street to the Presbyterian Avenue parking lot.
  • Improve traffic flow via various intersection improvements such as new crosswalks, pedestrian crossing signals, and traffic-light timing adjustments.
  • Accommodate the Norfolk Southern train depot rehabilitation project at the south boundary of downtown. The city acquired the depot in January 2006 for $1, and about $700,000 in SPLOST funds have been allocated to convert the structure into a visitor center and museum. The city will also use approximately $600,000 in transportation enhancement grant funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation. This project will provide an attractive and signature gateway into downtown Carrollton.

"The master plans primary elements—streetscapes and open space, land use, and transportation—have enabled us to look into the future so we can initiate improvements that will continue the revitalization of downtown Carrollton," Studdard said. "Extensive community involvement has also been instrumental in garnering support."

Return to: 2007 Feature Stories