F’ville plans to revamp downtown include purchase of BOE land for new city hall

The concept map shows the current plan for downtown Fayetteville to include a new city hall on land the city is set to purchase from the school system.

Wednesday morning at a joint meeting of the Downtown Development Authority, Main Street, Planning and Zoning Commission, and the city council, Fayetteville rolled out their updating downtown master plan with a clearer vision for redeveloping downtown.

“We have been working at this project for almost 2.5 years, if not over, in trying to give the citizens of Fayetteville what they have asked for,” said Mayor Ed Johnson. “We want to make it a more vibrant, walkable, quality of life place that we can all be excited about, no matter what the age of the citizens. We know that we want to attract younger, but we also respect the fact that our aging population, our seniors deserve what they want as well.”

The crux of the redevelopment will be a new city hall, slated for the land currently occupied by the Board of Education offices. An agreement to sell the land to the city has been reached, and the council is expected to approve it at tonight’s meeting. The school system would move the remainder of their operations to the Lafayette Educational Center at the old Fayette County High School building, and there is not yet a plan for the fate of the current city hall building.

In addition to the new city hall, the 10.5 acres could include a park, an office building, a farmer’s market, parking, a detention pond, and other green space, all within easy walking distance of the heart of downtown Fayetteville.

The hope is that a new city hall will be a catalyst for economic growth in the downtown area.

“From the city’s perspective, as much as we love this historic building that we’re all meeting in today, it’s undersized for the staff that we have. There’s not a feasible way to expand and grow,” Director of Downtown Development Brian Wismer said of the current structure that dates back to the 1920s. “If the public sector invests in downtown, the private sector will follow.”

According to Wismer, the impetus for the project was figuring what residents want the future of downtown Fayetteville to look like.

“Far and away, the most popular response was we want a downtown park, a place that we can push our kids in a stroller, and just enjoy a day away from the highway traffic and be able to walk to neighborhood restaurants and shopping and just enjoy the downtown,” he said.

Creating new commercial opportunities is vital. As Wismer noted, he has received inquiries from people wanting to get involved in the area, but that downtown Fayetteville is out of commercial space.

Real estate consultant Ladson Haddow examined the feasibility of the project and what is needed to get it off the ground.

“We looked at what are realistic goals to get wheels in motion and attract private development to downtown,” said Haddow. “The three things the city could do to get the wheels in motion are a new city hall, public green space, and more retail and restaurants downtown, and we really felt that all of that needs to be within a short walking distance to the core of downtown.”

Planning consultant Tom Walsh emphasized how important private investment in downtown residential options will be.

“You are not going to succeed as a downtown unless you get more residential down here. It is critical that you get residential. Every small town is Georgia is doing this,” he said. “It is a critical piece of survival for any town.”

Walsh recounted his work with Woodstock where a redeveloped downtown helped buildings that were struggling to survive see their rent rates increase from $3 per square foot up to $18.

“What’s exciting about downtown Fayetteville is that you all have so much already here to start with that other towns didn’t,” he said. “It really changes the dynamic for people wanting to live and work in a downtown area. You already have great spaces. It’s all here, we just need to do some tweaking to make it really extraordinary.”

Earlier versions of the downtown plan considered the possibility of purchasing the county administrative complex, but the county showed little interest in moving without significant compensation.

“Their posture was ‘We’re comfortable where we are. We’ll move, but in order to move we’re going to have to be paid what it would cost for us to replace this facility somewhere else,’” said Haddow. “What that means at the end of the day is you’d probably have to pay them around $20 million for that piece of property.”

The consultants also considered another batch of land fronting 85 and roughly across from Dunkin’ Donuts, but shied away from it because the collection of properties is owned by multiple people. Haddow noted that the city would prefer not to condemn property to build there, but it could make for a good future spot for apartments and/or retail.

Another key component of the plan considers the roads themselves, tweaking them to be more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists. Changes would be kept within existing right of way and would rely on taking some footage out of current car lanes to work.

On Glynn Street, the sidewalk in front of the businesses is currently nine feet wide. Those would expand to 14 feet. On the opposite side of the street, you would have a 10-foot bike lane and a 6.5-foot sidewalk. To accommodate the changes, the travel lanes would be narrowed from 12.5 feet to 10.5, and parking would only be allowed on the side of the courthouse.

Stonewall Avenue would reduce the travel lanes all down to 11 feet each to allow for a lane of parking and a bike lane. Lanier Avenue would also add parking and a bike lane.

Nothing can be set in stone until discussions begin with GDOT, particularly in regard to the lane changes and parking options.

“Our success with GDOT is going to determine the next steps,” said Wismer. “This is a plan, and it would be great to achieve everything as shown but as projects move along.”

The mayor made no secret of his enthusiasm.

“We want to be able to have Fayetteville grow and be a vibrant community that people are attracted to,” he said. “I’m just excited, and I hope you get excited too.”