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Fulton County to renovate water feature that helped bolster Republicans in 1990s

By David Pendered

Fulton County and Keep Atlanta Beautiful are partnering to update the water feature at the front the Fulton County Government Center, an attraction that factored into the political rise of Republicans in suburban Atlanta 25 years ago.

Plans call for a full renovation of the water garden, and the adjoining streetscape, on the Pryor Street side of the building. Pryor Street runs between the government center and Fulton County’s Lewis R. Slayton Courthouse.

The total price tag of $3.4 million is to provide:

  • $1.4 million to modernize the water feature;
  • $2 million to improve the streetscape around the water feature, to include an effort to improve the linkage between the sidewalks around the building and the pathways leading to the main entrance.

Currently, the government center can be a challenge to enter for folks who have no disability, as well as for those who do rely on walkers, wheelchairs or other devices.

Fulton County water feature, Keep Atlanta Beautiful

Fulton County and Keep Atlanta Beautiful are partnering on a $3.4 million renovation of the water garden, and the adjoining streetscape, on the Pryor Street side of the Fulton County Government Center. Credit: fultoncountyga.gov

A number of steps on a sloping surface separate the main entrance from the main sidewalk. A number of these steps stretch part way across the entrance area, sometimes impeding access for those without full mobility.

“It is important to me that Fulton County create our water garden into a more inviting public space that will make Fulton County and the government district more welcoming to visitors and residents,” Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner, who represents the area, said in a statement. “I am glad to be part of the energy and excitement that defines downtown Atlanta.”

The renovation work outside the county government center will bask in the light of Atlanta’s back-to-the-city movement.

Just a block to the north, the city appears to be taking the final steps to close a deal with a developer who intends to remake Underground Atlanta. WRS, Inc. has announced plans to add apartments and a grocery story to the struggling retail/entertainment complex. WRS estimated its investment will be in the range of $150 million to $200 million.

Michael Lomax

Michael Lomax

At a distance to the southeast, Turner Field and its 70-acre site is to be redeveloped into a complex of apartments, shops and sports facilities. The $300 million project is to be led by a partnership that includes Carter and Georgia State University.

Times were different when the government center and water garden were dedicated, in 1990. Downtown was pitched on the edge of decline. The government center marked a major commitment to Downtown.

Mitch Skandalakis

Mitch Skandalakis

From the day it opened, opulent government center came under fire from Republicans in north Fulton County. They cited the center, the water garden, and the indoor botanical garden that included palm trees priced at $8,500 each, as an example of a Democrat-led government run amok.

Then state House Representative Mitch Skandalakis, a Republican, helped lead the movement against this type of government spending. Skandalakis and others talked about recalling then Fulton County Chairman Michael Lomax.

Lomax ran in 1993 for Atlanta mayor, a campaign he lost to Bill Campbell. Skandalakis defeated Martin Luther King III in the 1993 special election to replace Lomax. Skandalakis won the 1994 campaign to a full four-year term, opening the door to countywide Republican elected leadership.

Mark Burkhalter

Mark Burkhalter

Meanwhile, a similar tax revolt was being led by north Fulton resident Mark Burkhalter, who would go on to win nine elections to the state House, a total of 18 years. Burkhalter ultimately serve a short time as House Speaker.

Burkhalter helped lead the “Lower Our Grady Tax” revolt against Grady Health System. At the time, Fulton County taxpayers were paying more than $70 million a year to help provide indigent care at the state’s largest public hospital. At the time, the money was characterized as “the Grady payment.”

In the current budget for Fiscal Year 2016, Fulton taxpayers are providing $60.2 million and the money is characterized in the budget as, “the Grady Hospital Transfer.”

Since the days when critics dubbed the government center as Fulton’s, “Taj Majal,” “Xanadu,” and “Crystal Palace,” north Fulton political leaders have succeeded in creating municipal governments that cover all the land north of the city of Atlanta. The cities of Alpharetta, Mountain Park and Roswell have been joined by Sandy Springs, Milton, and Johns Creek.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. Burroughston Broch June 6, 2016 11:45 am

    20 years from now Fulton taxpayers will be paying again to rebuild this feature after decades of neglect by Fulton County employees.Report

  2. Chad Carlson June 6, 2016 9:13 pm

    Hopefully this time around they won’t put $25,000 palm trees in the lobby.Report

  3. nunya123 June 8, 2016 10:52 am

    Had this been built in North Fulton, Scandal-akis and Burkhalter would have cared less about the cost. This had more to do with them killing off Downtown than the money.Report


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