Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: How Georgia’s Cities are Leveraging Partnerships to Achieve New Heights
Monday, August 16th, 2021
There’s no shame in asking for help, especially when something as important as a city’s future is at stake. Several of Georgia’s cities are setting a new standard for how to utilize partnerships to truly thrive. Here are their stories.
Fayetteville’s New City Center Is a Public/Private Partnership
The city of Fayetteville has blossomed in recent years, but as a result, the area experienced significant growing pains.
“In 2016, the downtown district was nearly at full occupancy and needed to find options for expansion of its downtown footprint,” said Economic Development Director Brian Wismer. “Meanwhile, maintenance costs on the existing city hall building, built in the 1930s, were on the rise, and staff had outgrown the land-locked property.”
The city was able to purchase property from the local board of education and sought development proposals from the private sector on how to reinvigorate the space while maintaining historical significance. The ideas were innovative, and local investors were excited to help the process along. Today, what was previously the original Fayette County High School gymnasium and a bus fleet servicing center is now known as “Triumph Station.” Located within is a 10,000-square-foot event space called “The Dottie,” a subsidiary location for Line Creek Brewing, a barbeque joint, a wine and bourbon bar and an ice cream shop, among others.
The partnership also successfully produced a 34,000-square-foot, two-story city hall facility, as well as City Center Park, which is approximately eight acres of recreation space featuring a variety of passive and active amenities. The new city hall location, in particular, was strategic to the future of Fayetteville.
“It’s connected to the historic downtown, and creates new opportunities for the private sector to contribute to the growth of Fayetteville’s downtown core,” said Wismer.
Two Cities, One Economic Development Professional
The cities of Rossville and LaFayette are taking an unconventional route to get the most bang for their buck. Neither city has enough budget for a full-time economic development professional, so both North Georgia cities contract with the same expert, Rossville native Elizabeth Wells.
Rossville, Wells quickly realized, was long overdue for revitalization.
“Because of globalization and lack of diversification, Rossville’s economy surrendered to economic hemorrhaging,” she said. Local leaders put together a volunteer group called the Rossville Redevelopment Workshop to figure out how to inject the area with economic vitality.
“Time and policy had passed by Rossville,” she said, noting that the perception in the North End community especially was that it was not worth investing in. “The community had gotten very desensitized to its continued decline.”
Wells and her partners worked to dispel that perception by coming up with an urban redevelopment plan with regional partners. They also established a relationship with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, which did an economic development strategic priorities assessment for Rossville.
“They build a roadmap for how we’d go forward, noting opportunities, challenges and liabilities,” she said.
To bring Rossville squarely into the here and now, Wells and her team also worked to have legislation passed to allow Sunday alcohol sales in stores and restaurants. Zoning regulations also became more progressive, and a plan for a 36-acre mill site was created, so that people will hopefully stop driving straight through Rossville without a backward glance.
“We want people to park their cars, get out and engage,” Wells said.
In LaFayette, Wells was pleased to encounter a community fully ready for change, in large part thanks to dynamic leadership. The main challenge for LaFayette is location, as the city is 45 minutes from the interstate, Chattanooga and Rome. “They needed to see some growth and commercial success and general updating,” Wells noted.
To that end, Wells and her team were able to obtain grants to fund projects, particularly related to the downtown area. In fact, both Rossville and LaFayette face a challenge in the form of dilapidated housing, so they joined together to apply for assistance from the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing. Now, both communities are involved with the group, and are doing massive housing assessments. “This created a really sweet team between the two cities,” Wells said. “They’re so encouraging and not competitive with each other. They have different opportunities and challenges”
According to Wells, cities are starting to see new private investments for which the community, the elected body and city administrators have been longing, “If I do nothing else I want the people in these communities to understand that they’re worthy of being invested in.”
Downtown Overhaul on Deck, From A To Zebulon
About 45 miles south of Atlanta, the city of Zebulon is home to just over 1,100 residents. City officials in small but mighty Zebulon want to take the area to the next level, while maintaining its historic charm. To do so, they engaged the services of Kirby Glaze, who has worked with a number of small cities in Georgia over the last couple of decades via his company, Public-Private Partnership Project Management, Inc.
Primarily, the Zebulon Downtown Development Authority was looking for a way to preserve a historic elementary school building situated right behind the downtown courthouse square. The school was in such disrepair that a portion of the roof had collapsed intohe basement.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary stop to the progress, one idea that Glaze is working on with the city is to convert part of that building into a new City Hall (much like Fayetteville, Zebulon has outgrown their current structure). This would also bring City Hall into downtown, rather than the edge of town where it currently sits. City operations would not require the entire space, however, so they are considering the possibility of leasing out the remainder for private purposes, like office space, restaurants, an auditorium or an event venue.
This plan meets a number of objectives, according to Glaze.
“Obviously, it preserves a historic piece of property that’s significant to the community,” he said. The relocation of city hall is also key. “Having local government offices in your downtown area is often a critical part of maintaining the viability of the area. This is because government offices are placing that people frequent, driving traffic to the adjacent local retail square.”