Stone Mountain Village can be so much more than it is

By King Williams

On a very warm Tuesday evening, two days before the Fourth of July, I decided to take a run near Stone Mountain Park. Instead of just simply running at the base of the park, I decided to go through Stone Mountain Village.

Stone Mountain Village is nearly a ghost town at night, during Fourth of July weekend 2019
photo by King Williams

What I saw next really perplexed me. Vacancies abound, no nightlife of any sort outside of a coffee shop off the main drag and a newly opened pizza shop.

It’s summertime and the strip should be poppin,’ but it feels like it’s 50 percent vacant and 90 percent of the remaining businesses there are closed.

This is a problem for this community. There’s a stunning lack of food, drinks, and nightlife here, meaning that money – both figurative and literal – is being left on the table. Revitalizing our small commercial corridors like Stone Mountain Village is key in shaping the future of metro Atlanta’s growth.

Stone Mountain Village suffers from a few problems:

1) a lack of connection to the park itself, 2) bad urban planning, 3) it’s a terrible legacy as a holdover monument to white supremacy and finally, 4) a lack of businesses led by representatives of the future demographics of Georgia.

1) Connecting to the park

One problem with the village’s Main Street is that it’s much less of bustling central thoroughfare as it is a small single side of a pass-through road with no apparent design standards.

Another major issue is that the Village and the park are disconnected from each other.  

East Mountain St., the two-lane road going from the park to Main Street, has no connective tissue to drive commerce between the two locations. 

East Mountain St, the connective roadway between the park and Village. In need of better planning to connect the two spaces.
photo by King Williams

This, in turn, presents an opportunity to convert some homes into commercial spaces, restaurants and event facilities. This would also be a great time to build secondary landscaping projects and increase mobility for those with disabilities.                                                                                               

These improvements can open up more opportunities for an increased tax base, a stronger commercial corridor and benefits that current residents, the park and the village can all participate in.

2) Urban Planning

Like many places in metro Atlanta, most of the planning is done using older ideas on how to design urban spaces. It’s in my hope that should this area redevelop, it’s with people who are planning for the 21st century and not the 20th.

Stone Mountain Village suffers from a combination of bad design related to segregation, car-centered planning, poorly organized parking lots and a lack of connection with pedestrian walkways.  

Some of these changes would include redirecting the flow of traffic that cuts through Main Street, removing the parking lot on Main Street as well as eliminating all street level parking.

Stone Mountain Village’s Main Street suffering from parking lots taking up viable space.
photo by King Williams

There is also an immediate need to improve the pedestrian experience by having sidewalks on both sides of every street, installing street lights, better directional signage and offering better wayfinding. 

Due to all of the surface level parking and vacant lots in the area, now would be the time to develop denser. By developing more mixed-use, 2-5 story buildings on those empty lots along with integrated parking decks in order to increase walkability throughout the whole village.

Additionally, there is an active freight train that runs parallel to Main Street, which has no pedestrian barriers or effective lighting. On the opposite side of that train is – you guessed it – another open lot with even more adjacent surface level parking.

3) Stone Mountain Park and Stone Mountain Village both have to reckon with its historical and continual connection to racism  

Stone Mountain is a great park with terrible connections to white supremacy and it must reckon with that history – an open embrace of racism and symbol of hatred carved into literal foundation the community.

The enormous carving of confederate generals was created nearly 60 years after the Civil War. 

Support for the carving was starting to gain traction in 1916, one year after DW Griffith’s film ‘The Birth of a Nation’ became a rallying cry for the rebirth of the KKK on top of Stone Mountain.  Led by the Daughters of the Confederacy, whose support of a racist state government and on land owned by actual KKK members the Venerable brothers

That film led to a resurgence of popularity for the of the group and an increase in racial violence across the U.S.

Confederate street names still exist in 2019 at Stone Mountain Park.
photo by King Williams

But getting rid of these monuments would be a problem due to 2019’s passage of SB77, which protects historical (confederate) monuments statewide.will be hard to remove the street names, markers and especially the carving from the mountain. SB77 also makes it very difficult to remove any similar monuments from the state and is punishable by jail time to anyone who attempts to remove them on their own.

In the case of Stone Mountain, it’s further complicated by the fact that while the park is a state landmark, it is actually owned by the state of Georgia but is managed  Herschend Entertainment. The company also owns Dollywood and (checks notes) the Harlem Globetrotters.

There have been some efforts to shed the past, like the counter-demonstrations during KKK rallies in 2019 (during Super Bowl weekend no less), unification church services, NAACP calls for removal and even an online proposal to replace the confederate symbols with rap duo Outkast.

4)  Supporting the next generation of Georgia’s  entrepreneurs

The irony of Stone Mountain is that the city is currently 76 percent black, DeKalb County as a whole over 70 percent non-white and the average age is 35 according to the US census.

Gilly Brew Bar, one of the few rehab businesses owned by young, Black entrepreneurs in Stone Mountain. The coffee shop sits in the old Stone Mountain Mayors House which was built by slaves but now owned by an African American.
photo by King Williams

But when it comes to the current businesses that could be there, not many seem to even cater to this market. This should be seen as troubling to anyone involved in that community.

One notable exception is Gilly Brewing Company, a fusion coffee house owned by black millennial husband and wife duo Daniel and Shellane Brown. The shop is located in the old Stone Mountain Mayor’s House and was the only place open after 5 p.m. during my time there this week.

Built by slaves, the Mayor’s House was a Civil War holdover that was a former hospital for wounded Union and Confederate soldiers. It’s this type of adaptive reuse of historic buildings by younger entrepreneurs of color that should be embraced and used to help fill in the many vacant storefronts in Stone Mountain Village.

It’s people like the Browns, who are the ones who will bring Stone Mountain Village into the 2020’s – young, vibrant entrepreneurs of color, who understand the past, acknowledge it and build upon it.

If you like to keep the conversation going, I’m always available on Twitter where you can see both the original thread or its bigger, ongoing follow up...or just email me.

 

-King

King Williams is a multimedia documentary film director and author based in Atlanta, Georgia. King’s documentary “The Atlanta Way: A Documentary on Gentrification” will be released this Summer. He is an associate producer on the upcoming Sara Burns (daughter of documentarian Ken Burns)/Dave McMahon’s 2019 documentary – ‘East Lake’ – on the former East Lake Meadows housing project. King can be reached at [email protected] or @iamkingwilliams on Instagram and Twitter. His number is: 470-310-1795.

10 replies
  1. Avatar
    Alecia Shipp says:

    Thank you Mr. King for bringing to our attention the lack of support and businesses that are located in historic downtown Stone Mountain. I am a resident there and some of our problems stem from lack of leadership and a willingness to change. The city council is a small group of residents that seem to have stake in the empty buildings that you see that for them is used as tax right offs. Stone Mountain is a beautiful town and a great place to grow up and shop, if it was available. Unfortunately the ones that hold the purse strings are the ones that aren't willing to embrace change and development. Wonderful article thank you for shedding light on this issue.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Va'Ronte says:

    THANK YOU!!! As former main street Stone Mountain business owners, my husband and I have been saying this for years!!!! You Sir are spot on in your observations and I agree with your opinions on how to move downtown Stone Mountain forward. It will not happen as long as the 'olde guard' is still in powerful postions to hold the village back from progressing. Their grip has to be loosened and fresh leadership has to be put in place.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    CC says:

    Lived here for 17 years.
    Unique, special town. The nightlife can be found at The Village Corner, The Art Station,
    Wells Cargo Restaurant,
    Sweet Potato Cafe, coffee shops or walking to Stone Mountain Park. There are some quiet nights that the town folks are planning for the next event. The town has a
    farmers market, a Christmas parade, live music by the tracks, orchestra on the lawn,
    movies on the lawn and walk & wine evenings.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Jim Reddick says:

    In 1996 when the Olympics came to Stone Mountain Park, the village was a thriving community of unique stores offering wares unavailable from other areas. The Atlanta Olympics Committee lied to the downtown merchants leading them to believe there would be a large crowd of visitors to the village from the people attending Olympics events in the park. They never came. That on top of the 1997 turnover of the management of Stone Mountain Park to the creators of Dollywood, Silver Dollar City (now Herschend), caused the downtown vendors to go broke. What now occupies downtown are a few businesses that do not foster repeat patronage and some overpriced eating and drinking establishments whose rents are outrageous (hence the prices). The central median on Main Street with an idiot speed-bump cross walk just compounds the problems. Parking was MUCH better when there was angle parking on either side of Main Street and no median.

    If you want the village to get better, perhaps you should look at the past, not the future.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Stoned Pizza Kitchen says:

    We are striving to make Stone Mountain what it should be. We have just opened our brand new restaurant and bar. We appreciate the support our city and community has given. It will take other entrepreneurs alike to offer what the people want. We are happy to be here and hope to pioneer the change…..Report

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    K3nn3th says:

    The state of the Village is a reflection of what has happened to the broader community and it has little to do with segregation. The uncomfortable truth is that the community is not safe. Just look at the crime data from the last six months. I know several families that left the area because of the unruly element that took over. Before the accusation comes, I'm black. I'm just honest.Report

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    King Me says:

    But if Stone Mountain was cleaned up and improved would that not be the dreaded "gentrification" you enjoy throwing around? You can't have your cake and eat it too.Report

    Reply
  8. Avatar
    George Wilson says:

    The old argument about the KKK and race is a rediculous troupe that has been dragged out at every opportunity .A poor excuse for s failure of leadership and effort on the part of the community.Report

    Reply

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