Smyrna’s ULI-awarded downtown to lose traffic circle, greenspace, fountain
By David Pendered
Smyrna is poised to go against the grain in its efforts to retool its award-winning smart growth design of the downtown district.
Smyrna intends to remove a traffic circle and fountain that helped the city win a 1997 award from the Urban Land Institute. The new downtown plan also provides for the city to sell an acre of greenspace in the district to a beer manufacturer.
The traffic circle built in 1993 has been deemed a safety hazard. The fountain is broken and “not fixable unless at a huge expense,” Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton said at a June 3 meeting, according to minutes of the meeting. ULI recognized recognized both design elements in its 1997 award to Smyrna.
The Smyrna City Council is slated to vote Monday evening to adopt a redevelopment plan that calls for the removal of the fountain and traffic circle.
Other revisions include the sale of an acre of city-owned greenspace to make way for a three-story beer manufacturing plant that’s to offer an onsite place to drink. The agreed sale price for the greenspace is $600,000, according to a letter of intent. The site is adjacent to Atlanta Road and provides direct access to the Braves stadium and all the interstates in the vicinity – I-285, I-75 and U.S. 41.
The proposed revision of Smyrna’s downtown area speaks to the broader issue of the revitalization of Georgia’s historic town centers. Programs including the Livable Centers Initiative, sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission, help fund the transformation of underperforming areas into more vibrant communities. These plans often provide a mix of greenspace, plus retail and commercial uses to promote a walkable area.
The Urban Land Institute recognized Smyrna in 1997 with its Public Award, along with private sector partners Knight-Davidson Co., for residential, and Thomas Enterprises, for retail and office, according to a report on ULI’s website. This was a significant year for the awards, with Chelsea Piers project in New York winning the Rehabilitation Award.
The Sizemore Group, headed by Michael Sizemore, created the award-winning designs for Smyrna Town Center and the Market Village. The company served as architect, programmer, planner and interior designer for design and site development, according to its website. Sizemore also provided the design for the privately developed Market Village.
Now, Smyrna is poised to retool the plan along lines designed by Pond & Co., of Norcross, despite efforts by residents who oppose the proposals. These residents say they have been frustrated in their efforts to learn about the city’s plans and influence the city council to retain the existing design of the town center.
The mayor’s comment about the fountain is one such example, they said. Three months after the mayor’s comment in a public meeting that the fountain was “not fixable unless at a huge expense,” a city official advised a Smyrna resident in an email that the city has no cost estimate for fountain repairs:
- ‘We have no documentation to provide in regards to the cost of repairs to the fountain in the roundabout.”
A similar situation has evolved around Smyrna’s plans to sell the greenspace to a company that intends to build a three-story brewery.
Questions about the transaction submitted by city residents under Georgia’s Open Records Act have not yielded robust answers, residents say. This is one example of the exchange between a resident and city official:
- Question: “Does Council have a set date to vote on the sale of the downtown property on Atlanta Road? Can Council move on to vote on the sale if no announcement of public bidding has taken place? Can the sale move forward without an official appraisal?
- “Answer: The only response I received was a PDF with copy of the Letter of Intent to sell to the brewery.”
- “Is the City of Smyrna (downtown Smyrna) keeping ownership of any part of the lot next to Atlanta Road?
- “Reply; A PDF with copy of the Letter of Intent was sent – no other comment”
A campus publication at the University of Georgia offered a bit of information about StillFire Brewery opening in Smyrna. The report noted that the brewery’s co-founder, John Bisges (bachelors, 1993) and Smyrna’s mayor are UGA alums. The Sept. 1 report by UGAToday observed:
- “In June, StillFire and Derek Norton BBA ’02, the mayor of Smyrna, announced plans for a new brewery in the heart of that northwestern Atlanta suburb. Its targeted opening date is in fall 2022.”