They say you can’t fight city hall. In Flowery Branch, at this point, you can’t fight the new city hall.
Plans are in motion, including financing, for the $5.3 million once-controversial project planned off Railroad Avenue and West Chestnut Street. A groundbreaking is being eyed for fall and an opening next summer.
“We really think this is going to bring in some more businesses and get (city offices) more organized and the city set for moving forward,” City Manager Bill Andrew said.
The 18,000-square-foot building will bring under one roof offices now spaced out on Main Street, including a City Council room that becomes a sardine can during controversial meetings.
It also will include space for the police department, now confined to a square brick building off the corner of Main and Church streets.
The new City Hall will highlight a community room, where council meetings will be held but also where wedding receptions and formal events can take place.
The building also looks to the future.
“We’re allowing for quite a bit of growth in the police department,” said Andrew, walking the site last week. “What a lot of cities do is, at some point, the police department moves out on its own or (other functions) leave and police takes over the building.”
The project, which also calls for extending Pine Street from Church to Railroad, is all part of a downtown redevelopment plan that forecasts commercial growth and townhomes.
A new city hall certainly is pleasing to Mayor Mike Miller.
“In 2010, I sat down with a list of goals I had for the city and where we want to be in 10 years,” he said. “The pinnacle of that 10-year plan was a new city hall.
“To see it come to fruition ... says a lot about our city council and our staff, and how well they’ve been able to manage the budget in some very trying years.”
Most officials believed a city hall was needed, as the city has continued to grow, but there wasn’t always agreement on where the building should be placed or to what scale it should be built.
“I just wish it wasn’t quite so big,” said Councilman Joe Anglin, who voted against construction of and financing for the building. “I would almost rather see the police, then city hall itself, go into the new building, then (move) the administrative component (there).”
Under the current setup, the clerk’s office, where residents can pay utility bills, and the council meeting room are in City Hall. Administrative offices are in a building across the street.
Janet Upchurch, owner of Sample Pleasures, an antiques store off Main at Railroad, said she isn’t pleased with the new city hall’s location.
“I do not think it belongs behind Main Street,” she said. “I do not think government brings business. I think that property should be left alone for retail, shops and private enterprise. Putting City Hall there is a huge mistake.”
The new city hall also became a campaign issue in 2015 between Councilman Chris Mundy and challenger Michael Justice.
“We need better (city) facilities,” said Justice, who lost the Nov. 3 race. “However, we don’t need a $5 million city hall.”
As for Upchurch, she favors other locations for city hall, such as at Main Street at Gainesville Street, or “top of the hill,” as residents call the area. Or the old Habersham Bank off Spout Springs Road, which is a couple miles from downtown but more in the city’s geographic center.
As for Main at Gainesville, the city’s public works department already has a home there.
“They are set there, and we didn’t want to have to move them,” Miller said. “(In that scenario), we would be building two buildings.”
As for the bank, “we considered it, but the majority of the council felt ... we would be essentially abandoning downtown and the redevelopment plan we put time and money into,” he said.
“Our citizens want downtown to be redeveloped. They like the feeling of an old town with Main Street,” Miller said. “There are so many cities in Georgia that are trying to get that. It’s a trendy thing. We have it, so why abandon it?”
For longtime residents, such as City Councilwoman Mary Jones, the project also showcases how the city has evolved over time — from a sleepy village on the railroad to a fast-growing suburban-like community serving as home for the Atlanta Falcons.
In an earlier tenure on the council, Jones recalled how the need for a new city hall started to arise. But it wasn’t until the arrival of Miller and others this decade that the issue got serious looks.
“This has been a long, long haul,” she said.
Jones said she’s pleased the project is being realized and that personal politics has been absent in the process.
“I don’t think this has to do with anything other than this is mainly for the city,” she said. “... The city has just outgrown what it has.”