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Decatur Downtown Development Authority voices support of downtown master plan

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Decatur Downtown Development Authority voices support of downtown master plan

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: The downtown Square begins to fill up as the sun sets during the city of Decatur’s Fourth of July celebration on Monday, July 4, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur Downtown Development, at its June 16 meeting, recommended that the city commission adopt the downtown master plan.

The DDA works to implement the city’s strategic plan and serves as advisors and advocates on issues related to the redevelopment of commercial districts in the city. The city commission will consider adopting the downtown master plan at its June 20 meeting.

The Town Center 2.0 plan is the first comprehensive look at downtown Decatur in 40 years. The initial downtown master plan was adopted in 1982.

The downtown master plan features seven goals, each with multiple objectives and action items detailing how the goals can be achieved. The goals are:

– Balance land use patterns with human-centered design.

– Stimulate economic growth in the downtown area.

– Create welcoming and vibrant open spaces, parks and plazas.

– Promote mobility enhancements that improve connectivity.

– Support a resilient and environmentally sustainable downtown.

– Enhance downtown’s historic character and unique identity.

– Improve the quality of the downtown experience.

“We’re building off of the 1982 plan and the success of that plan. The sentiment is still the same of how do we continue to have that small town feel while we continue to grow,” Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill said.

One recommendation coming out of the plan is to enhance the Decatur Square. The last time there was a major overhaul of the Square was in 1999. The conceptual design in the plan removes the bandstand and suggests having a pavilion or stage area closer to Swanton Way and the MARTA bus terminal. Removing the bandstand would open the plaza for more active or passive activity.

In the area near Squash Blossom, “this is coming from some of our students at Winnona Park, is really making it more kid friendly, so replacing some of that grade change, the steps and retaining walls with more of a hillside slide and climb area, create more parent seating and gathering spaces,” Threadgill said.

To read more about the plans for the Square, click here.

The plan includes recommendations for the parking lot on East Court Square, as well as making the space more pedestrian friendly. The parking lot on North McDonough Street in front of city hall would be reimagined as well.

“The idea is to shorten that turnaround area [on North McDonough],” Threadgill said. “We’d probably be losing about eight parking spaces, but turning that over to more passive space and sitting space.”

The cycle track project on Church Street is almost complete, which adds protected bike lanes on Church Street and Commerce Drive, between Church and Clairemont Avenue. The downtown master plan recommends extending the cycle track project to the other half of Commerce Drive to create better connectivity throughout the corridor.

In terms of improving the downtown experience, the plan includes an action item to continue to connect and collaborate with unhoused programs and organizations to create a housing-first program. The city is currently working with Frontline Response to provide a warming center for unhoused individuals with food, bedding, and restrooms.

“In addition to continuing this partnership with Frontline, the city should also continue to support other organizations and places of worship to create a Housing First program,” the master plan states.

Here are some key items highlighted in the plan:

– Beginning process of updating the UDO

– Working with potential hotel developers to bring an additional hotel to downtown

– Advancing the transformation of the Square

– Updating streetscape standards to be more environmentally resilient

– Improving local preservation tools to help enhance the preservation of local assets

– Creating the downtown ambassador program

“These ambassadors are trained to help visitors with directions and recommendations, as well as act as safety personnel to interface with local police to help make downtown more welcoming and safe,” the master plan states. “They can also be trained to offer homeless outreach services to connect people with need assistance and resources.”

The ambassador program would be managed by the Decatur Tourism Bureau and Visitor’s Center, and it would be funded by hotel/motel taxes.

To read the full downtown master plan, click here.

DDA Chair Conor McNally noted that the commentary in the plan about the retail environment jumped out to him.

“We’ll need to think about the desire of our community continues to be, and frankly always has been, to get great locally owned and operated, authentic retailers. We hear that consistently,” McNally said. “That’s a challenge.”

There are many retail spaces in downtown Decatur, and sometimes retailers don’t survive in those spaces, and rather than replacing them with national chains, the city is trying to support local retail, he added.

“I think we need to be really thoughtful as we go to the implementation of this plan to make sure that we are doing the things to support our existing retailers and that we’re also being thoughtful as we build out new areas, we build out new mixed-use development, the conventional thinking is always to fill the ground floor with retail space. One thing we need to be careful to not do is to end up with too much of an inventory of retail in downtown that can’t all be successful,” McNally said.

Another challenge the city is facing is affordable housing, and there is an affordability issue when it comes to housing options in downtown Decatur, McNally said.

“If we’re going to have those affordable units, we need to be able to produce new projects,” he said. “If we take a lot of steps to make everything about that project significantly more expensive, what happens is the 10% stay at the affordable level, but the other 90% of the units get more and more and more expensive. That has a major impact on the housing stock in the city and the fact that we may be keeping a smaller percentage of those new units as truly affordable, but we end up with 90% of our stock being completely unaffordable for the majority of people that want to live here.”

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