With more retail shops open for business downtown, new homes being built and upcoming plans for more accommodating roads, it’s safe to say Flowery Branch is a bustling town.
Part of that involves the redevelopment plan, a road map city leaders, business owners and community members are using to get to the kind of destination they’d like Flowery Branch to become for residents and visitors alike.
“We are working on it,” City Manager Bill Andrew said. “Almost every week, there’s something going on.”
The plan was approved by city council in January 2014.
“It was a very comprehensive look,” City Planner John McHenry said. “From looking at smaller things like ‘What are you going to do with your sidewalks and your storm drains?’ and then actually looking at larger (projects).”
“It seemed like all of a sudden we came in — through various issues — owning a sizable amount of the town,” Andrew added. “Obviously, that has a value and a responsibility.
“So, I think by spending these funds (on the plan), we felt like we got a really good deal to learn more of how we ought to utilize those resources.”
After the plan was created and approved, it was time to get the ball rolling and put it into action — with city leaders trying to balance what can realistically be done with the opportunities at hand.
“The council made a strategic plan,” Mayor Mike Miller said. “It was like, ‘We have a plan. Let’s begin implementing it, the steps that we can realistically finance.’”
Those plans include:
Lights Ferry roundabout
Construction should begin within the next few months on a planned Lights Ferry Connector, which will run between Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway and McEver Road.
The city has received a $650,000 grant and $950,000 loan for the project, a 140-foot roundabout to improve access to both downtown and Lake Lanier.
The city expects to pay off the loan in $206,000 annual installments over five years, a total of $1.03 million, at an interest rate of 3.3 percent.
Another $267,000 from the city’s capital project fund will cover any remaining costs.
“That’s a long-time project that many residents have said would never happen,” Miller said, “but we see that progress being made.”
A new City Hall and more downtown parking
The next big project is expected to be construction of a new City Hall building
City offices currently take up spaces on both side of Main Street. Both Andrew and McHenry spoke of the desire to open those premises up for more business development.
Funds would come from the special local option sales tax if approved by county voters in March. City officials have budgeted for $1.62 million in SPLOST VII to go toward municipal buildings.
“I think that the SPLOST and doing City Hall along with the roads around it and the parking plan is a total game changer for the downtown,” McHenry said. “It would really push so many of these goals in terms of getting us off of Main Street. You’re basically doubling the amount of retail you have on Main Street. You’ll have a consolidated city government. You’ll have an actual real park plaza area. That’s really a key part of furthering these goals of the redevelopment plan.”
“This council has made it a priority that we want to be in downtown,” Miller said. “We think Old Town Flowery Branch is where the heart of the city is, and they’ve made that commitment with their votes and with the city funds to make that a priority and move ahead with that goal.”
Another part of having a new City Hall is providing another space for community groups and activities.
“There’s not many in the South Hall area,” Miller said. “Groups are going to Buford, to their community center down there. So one of the components of the City Hall complex that we’d like to include is a community center type, or a meeting room type space, that we can encourage our citizens to come downtown.”
Access to Lake Lanier
Something listed in the plan and mentioned by Andrew was the city’s unique proximity to Lake Lanier.
Considered the closest city next to the lake, city officials hope the Lights Ferry connector, complete with sidewalks, will make it easier for downtown residents and visitors alike to have easy walking access to the city park.
“It’s trying to get a better connection for the town, to have a walking trail or a path down to (Flowery Branch Park),” Andrew said. “And we have made some improvements to the park — we’ve redone the bathrooms, we’ve cut out maybe two acres of brush and really opened that up.”
Downtown activities and draws
Some of the goals outlined in the redevelopment plan included bringing more events and activities to the downtown area.
The annual spring and fall festivals hosted by the Boy Scouts have helped, along with the city’s annual Christmas event and fall car show and chili cook-off.
“The farmers market was something that came here that’s been huge,” McHenry said, referring to the market’s new Railroad Avenue location. “It’s exactly what we wanted.”
Additionally, a large mural is going up on the side of Growlers on Main, across from the historic train depot.
“It’s a great spot down here,” McHenry said. “Everybody that has an event down here loves it. The depot’s booked year-round.”
Miller added that “businesses thrive” once they open in the downtown Flowery Branch area.
“Those businesses, they’re doing well,” he said about Main Street. “So if we can open up more retail space along Main Street, then that will help that growth come down there and hopefully the residential component will come with that.”
Miller also pointed out that the historic train depot, while not large, is rented out nearly every weekend.
For Miller, the plan is a blueprint that helps lead the way as the economy rebuilds.
“We’ve done, I think, a good job as stewards of taxpayer money and limited debt,” Miller said. “And kept taxes low, even through the worst of the economy. We’re in a place right now where I think we can reasonably see some of these projects through.”
“Ultimately it’s increasing property values, and it’s increased economic development. It’s hard to beat that stuff,” McHenry said.