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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 community center

Smyrna plans to sell an acre of greenspace for construction of a beer manufacturing plant adjacent to Atlanta Road. (Photo by David Pendered)

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.

smyrna, fountain traffic circle

Smyrna intends to remove the fountain and the traffic circle that surrounds it as part of a plan to revise the downtown area. (Photo by Joan Martin, Smart Smyrna)

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.

Smyrna’s downtown district is a few miles west of The Battery, home of the Atlanta Braves. The map shows the district’s proximity to the stadium and interstate highways in the area. (Image from Spring Road Corridor Study, a studio of Georgia Tech)

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.”
smyrna market village

Smyrna’s Market Village was a retail destination for shoppers on Oct. 8, Friday afternoon. (Photo by David Pendered)

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:

Sept. 9:

  • 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.”

Sept. 9:

smyrna housing

Neighborhoods around Smyrna’s central business district are filled with tidy homes. (Photo by David Pendered)

  • “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.”
smyrna, greenspace, church

Smyrna has a letter of intent to sell an acre of greenspace to StillFire Brewery, which intends to build a three-story manufacturing plant between the building and Atlanta Road, barely visible on the right side. (Photo by David Pendered)

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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8 Comments

  1. Julie October 18, 2021 4:45 pm

    The plan stinks to high heavens.Report

    Reply
  2. Scott Carlisle October 19, 2021 4:01 pm

    What a great use of our village area! This will increase green space, small business revenues and activities in the village. This plan will also bring our community together in a safe and fun environment. No longer do I have to yell at reckless drivers using the roundabout as a cut through to powder springs or the village. This will enhance the area and the addition of a brewery is amazing. Stillfire has donated to CHOA and other local charities.Report

    Reply
    1. Jeff Meadows November 10, 2021 6:26 pm

      You’re exactly right Scott!, go on Nextdoor and support the plan!, we need reinforcements!, the people opposing everything are casting all kinds of BS trying to stop it!Report

      Reply
  3. Mark October 20, 2021 9:14 am

    Interesting choice of words to call this a beer manufacturing plant. The term brewery only appears once at the end of the article. 1997 was a long time ago and these award winning designs are beyond obsolete. Local breweries have become community gathering spots across most every town in metro Atlanta. The area is question is desolate. An eyesore empty field and a huge concrete jungle of a traffic circle. Despite a few busy restaurants, the Market Village is very aged as well. This move should be applauded by anyone with interest in Smyrna’s future.Report

    Reply
    1. Scott Carlisle October 20, 2021 1:31 pm

      Good point. I think this article is a hit piece. The Ford Taurus was award winning 20 years ago, should we keep it around ?Report

      Reply
  4. Letmesaythis October 20, 2021 12:08 pm

    Every single festival, they close off the streets and traffic circle for vendors to set up.
    The redesign makes the space functional to both pedestrians, events (load in & move out) and traffic flow.
    Also, not one article in any local publication called the Smyrna City center a ‘mixed-use development’ for that is what it is.
    It is a shopping center, with homes, city buildings and open green space.Report

    Reply
  5. Patricia Burns October 28, 2021 11:34 am

    Smyrna’s downtown West Spring St.is Market Village. It is mostly rotating businesses and empty storefronts….The few blocks are privately owned and appears to be someone’s convenient tax write-off. The long time restaurant menus are weary and unimaginative. This is where improvements should begin. Then the city council and mayor have to evaluate Smyrna as a whole to determine improvements using available SPLOST funds instead of just one small area around government buildings. This area does indeed need refreshing which could be as simple as festivals bringing in creative venders and unique food instead of birdhouses and greasy food trucks.
    Smyrna’s traditional mayoral leadership style was set 30 some years ago…..Mayor Norton is following the style initiated by former Mayor Max Bacon’s often bullish ruling of the city. But unlike Bacon, Norton lacks humor and self deprecation, instead he seems to rely on intimidation and sometime snakiness when questioned and opposed. The city government Charter is Weak Mayor- Strong City Council but both mayors have been able to surrounded themselves with co-dependent good ol boy yes men. Legally the current mayor may be within his rights to use SPLOST funds for redesigning an aging government building and park area but it appears to all be done in preparation for his friend’s beer and spirit factory on a vacant city owned lot next to the Community Center….. Ethically this is troubling and the lack of transparency is blinding. The mayor has stated that the beer factory owner approached him regarding the city center lot for sale and apparently a quick letter of intent to sell was drafted and sent. Mayor Norton apparently accepted a marriage proposal on his first date, as one individual has pointed out, rather than consider best land use for the vacant lot.
    We are all beer affectionados despite comments to the contrary. Many want their beer right now and apparently the mayor is among them as the city is already ripping out the acclaimed round-about.Report

    Reply
    1. Marie B December 6, 2021 12:03 am

      A great summation of the quick movements on locating an inappropriate industrial operation next to city public buildings.Report

      Reply

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