A downtown redevelopment plan approved by Flowery Branch more than five years ago steadily is coming to fruition.
New Lights Ferry Road roundabout? Check. New City Hall? Check.
And development could crank up this summer in a big way as a downtown makeover project involving retail and residential gets underway. Also being considered: an area showcasing the farmers market off Railroad Avenue, Main Street cosmetic fixes and changing Church Street to make it more pedestrian friendly.
The aim is to stir more downtown activity.
“People are looking for alternative retail,” City Manager Bill Andrew said in an interview last week. “They may not be going to big boxes or malls as much, but they are looking for unique retail or unique restaurant experiences.”
The push to re-energize Flowery Branch’s downtown area goes back more than a decade, when a developer rolled out plans for the Old Town development — a multi-use project featuring housing and retail and centered on city blocks just north of Main Street.
The project unraveled as the Great Recession hit but regained momentum as the economy improved, with the city approving the redevelopment plan in January 2014.
“The council made a strategic plan,” Mayor Mike Miller said at the time. “It was like, ‘We have a plan. Let’s begin implementing it, the steps that we can realistically finance.’”
One of the big priorities was improving traffic flow, and that came in the form of extending Lights Ferry Road to Atlanta Highway/Ga. 13, punctuated by a landscaped roundabout at Mitchell Street.
The road, opened in 2016, has become such a busy artery — directing cars from heavily traveled McEver Road to Ga. 13 and beyond to Interstate 985 — that the city is now considering making one of its side streets, Railroad Avenue, into a one-way road.
The new City Hall opened in 2018 on part of what was the former Old Town site, with Pine Street extended from Church Street to Pine Street. City Hall sits on one side of the new West Pine Street, with retail projected on the other, now-vacant side.
Earlier this year, Flowery Branch joined the national trend to use a bit of public green space, or “pocket parks,” to inspire walkable communities, and opened the Dean Jones Family Park off Mitchell Street and Lights Ferry Road.
The next major project affecting downtown and involving public funding is the redevelopment of one side of Main Street in downtown Flowery Branch.
The project involves tearing down the city block comprising the old city hall and police department, as well as city-owned structures that at one time housed a craft beer store, theater group and a bakery.
The Historic Depot, which sits at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Main, won’t be affected, said Kurt Alexander, principal with Atlanta-based The Residential Group, the developer.
The new building is expected to feature 15 apartments and 7,700 square feet of ground-level retail. No tenants have been lined up yet, Alexander said.
The project could come up at the City Council’s meeting on Thursday, July 18, and would require design plan approval by the Flowery Branch Historic Preservation Commission.
Its tie to the city is that the council voted Nov. 15 to approve $5 million from tax allocation district money to offset demolition and construction costs on the project.
Under Georgia law, cities are allowed to designate certain “blighted” areas as TADs, using property tax increments resulting from new growth on public projects to help attract growth and increase the increments.
Also in the city’s plans is extending the “streetscaping,” or dressing up with new streetlights and sidewalks, that took place several years ago on Main Street between Railroad and Main up Main to Mitchell Street.
The city is looking at adding a “woonerf,” a Dutch-style “living” street that involves make urban streets more pedestrian-friendly through lower speed limits and “traffic-calming” devices such as speed humps.
That conversion could be made to Church Street between Main and West Pine.
A structure to dress up the farmers market, which takes place off Railroad Avenue, also is being considered, with sellers being able to unload produce from a side street, Knight Drive.
Private investments are being made downtown.
The area got its first new retail property perhaps in decades when businesswoman Karen Ching opened a building at the corner of Main and Mitchell in late 2018.
The building features a market and craft beer store.
Housing projects also have sprung up, including off East Main Street, Gainesville Street and McEver Road. New houses are being built on established streets, as well, including local builder Tim Bassett’s plans to start building 13 homes in the $390,000 and higher price range on Mitchell Street southwest of the roundabout on Lights Ferry Road.
For Andrew, the changes downtown and what may come is exciting to see.
“It’s hard to absorb that it’s happening,” he said.