Oakwood has a busy commercial strip in Mundy Mill Road, a large industrial base and a growing residential presence.
As for a central, public gathering spot or downtown? That section of town isn’t quite thriving, but Oakwood hopes to change that.
The South Hall city is planning a multi-use development on mostly vacant, city-owned land between railroad tracks running parallel to Railroad Street and Flat Creek Road. The city owns about 27 acres in the area, with much of that open land facing Main Street.
City officials have developed concept drawings, including one detailed map, showing three buildings on the property, with a community center as “one of the first buildings to be constructed,” City Manager B.R. White said.
Among the plans for the property are a railroad viewing platform, a farmer’s market pavilion and storefronts for start-up, or “incubator,” shops. The development also would feature a “town green” and portions of the Highlands to Islands pedestrian/bicycle trail, which now runs along Atlanta Highway/Ga. 13 between Oakwood and Gainesville.
A playground, amphitheater and water-based attraction such as a splash pad are being considered. The site would also have a 180-space parking deck.
The project also would call for realigning McClure Drive, which now intersects with Main Street at a point between Flat Creek Road and the railroad, so that it would connect with Flat Creek Road. Also, the intersection of Main Street and Flat Creek Road — where a post office sits — would become a roundabout.
The city expects to invest at least $15 million into the project.
“We are working on multiple funding sources at this time,” White said. “The city will not have to implement any new or additional taxes.”
He added: “The project will be developed in phases and is designed with flexibility to entertain public-private partnerships on portions of the project.”.
A final design is expected within three months, with the city hopes to begin grading on the site in early 2022, White said.
Stacey Dickson, Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau president, said in an email that her organization “is very supportive of the city of Oakwood’s plans to create a downtown/town center.”
“The addition of retail and entertainment options in the downtown space is vital to future growth in the city,” Dickson said. “We are very engaged in this process and have been working to develop relationships between the city and potential tenants.”
Downtown redevelopment is a trendy concept among area cities.
Sugar Hill, Duluth and Suwanee in North Gwinnett have all revamped or built from scratch their town centers. Gainesville is seeing rapid growth, with apartments, retail shops and a 7-story Courtyard by Marriott all in the works. An apartment-retail building on Main Street in Flowery Branch is nearly finished, with the city working to wrap up several public improvements, including a farmer’s market pavilion by the end of 2021.
The concept is hardly a stranger to Oakwood, which today has a loose collection of public places, including a park and City Hall, on or around Main Street. Main Street runs from Flat Creek Road to Academy Street, where Oakwood Elementary School sits.
The city considered “downtown” improvements as early as 2008, when it unveiled its Oakwood 2030 plan.
That plan, rolled out by then-City Manager Stan Brown, also called for multi-use and commercial buildings and an amphitheater, but also a train station anticipating potential commuter rail.
“The 2030 plan is now different in this area,” White said.
Still, he praises those original plans, which were stalled after the 2007-09 Great Recession.
“Without the vision, there would be no current project for a downtown,” White said.