Because the city is the primary landowner at the juncture of Ga. Hwy. 9 and Magnolia Street, the transformation of that intersection, complete with a new civic square or plaza and pedestrian underpass, could be accomplished sooner than other potential projects that involve privately held property, according to DDA members.
At a Monday night city council workshop, board Chairwoman Monica Hagewood said the project dovetails with DDA’s mission to facilitate and encourage economic development in the city’s downtown.
“We just think this lights up as far as opportunities” for economic development in the area, she said.
“As far as actually doing something immediately, this is something I think we can get started on much quicker,” board member Lonnie Mimms said. “I think it would grow from here if we do it right.”
The concept as envisioned by the city’s transportation planners would realign Hwy 9 to the east and connect Magnolia Street to Hill Street. A second traffic lane could be added to Elizabeth Way. The streets would then be boundaries for a new public square of roughly 1.9 acres, said planner Anthony Antweiler.
That land could remain park-like or accommodate some new buildings of one or two stories. With Hwy 9 “bubbled up” enough to create a pedestrian underpass, it would be an “easy walk” from the 400 parking spaces at City Hall to the Canton Street area for shopping and restaurants, Antweiler said.
A parking garage would also be possible somewhere west of the new square and Canton Street, he added.
Alternatively, a plaza adjacent to the underpass could offer carefully situated commercial space, according to Clyde Stricklin, deputy director of the city’s community development department.
Preliminary cost estimates for construction of the intersection changes are from $8 million to $11 million.
Mayor Jere Wood said he liked the idea of additional commercial buildings.
“They actually offer you some offsetting revenues” to construction costs, he said. “The cost of developing that intersection would be the same but the use of the property totally changes the revenue side.”
Councilman Rich Dippolito commended the city staff on the creative concept for the intersection, but added he was “a little concerned about the scale of it….we need to be really careful about how this works.”
Council members informally agreed that the DDA should get some seed money to hire a “new urbanism” planning specialist to help the board further explore development opportunities with the intersection concept. That item will come before council for a formal vote.
The DDA and transportation staff will be working in concert to refine the concept and bring the results back to council, most likely at a council committee meeting in a few months.