Former DOT Chairman Mike Evans and state Rep. James Mills, who were instrumental in securing the funding for the $321,000 project, spoke to the crowd of about 30 people at the celebration Wednesday afternoon in the railroad depot.
Evans said the event was perhaps one of the last times he would speak on behalf of the DOT, and he was proud to see the Flowery Branch project through. He recently resigned from the chairman position when he made his relationship with DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham public.
The first phase of the streetscape project included widened sidewalks on the first block of Main Street off of Railroad Avenue. The DOT Transportation Enhancement Grant also funded new streetlights and benches with a historic flavor and landscaping, as well as more parking spaces. The city paid for power and communication lines to be buried underground.
Construction on the first phase of the project began early last fall and was completed in February.
City officials said the DOT has pledged $250,000 more for phase two of the city’s streetscape project, which could extend the landscaped sidewalks, lighting and street furniture from Main Street to Railroad Avenue.
Evans said small towns like Flowery Branch and Oakwood were once the hub of the economy in North Georgia and at times have been "swept aside by big interstates, strip malls and shopping centers." He said bringing some life into small downtown areas is not only crucial economically, but it’s also the right thing to do.
"Reviving downtown areas is just important," Evans said. "Sometimes these small towns seem like the only thing that’s real. Places like Flowery Branch give you a chance to get out of your car, walk around and talk to folks ... and slow down."
James Riker, Flowery Branch city planner, said the city has yet to receive the funds for phase two of the streetscape project, but construction of new sidewalks and landscaping could begin on Railroad Avenue shortly after funds are awarded. He said the streetscape project is the first step in transforming historic downtown Flowery Branch into an economically vibrant and walkable area.
Kellin Dobbs and Marty Hortman, both Flowery Branch residents, have formed Hortman and Dobbs LLC. The developers are in the final stages of getting city approval for plans to build a $15 million mixed-use development in the three blocks along Railroad Avenue and Main Street. The city Historic Preservation Commission has already granted approval for the project, and, pending City Council approval, building could begin this fall.
Dobbs said the streetscape project will make significant contributions to the Old Town development, which is planned to bring more residential, retail and dining opportunities to the historic district.
"It was definitely what you might say was the catalyst for what turned everybody’s attention to downtown and said, hey, something is happening downtown, and it really looks nice," Dobbs said. "In fact, we hope to mirror the streetscape design onto our new street, which will be Pine Street. It’s changed the aesthetic appearance of downtown, and we’re going to build on that."