Town Center Community Alliance sets goal of combining place-making with infrastructure projects

Beechcraft at Aviation ParkBeechcraft Musketeer on display at Aviation Park (photo courtesy of the Town Center Community Alliance)

By Mark Woolsey

If you the frequent Town Center area, you’ve seen ample evidence of the Town Center Community Improvement District and its related community alliance, Cobb County and other agencies partnering on such infrastructure improvements as the South Barrett Reliever project and the Skip Spann Connector Bridge, aimed at reducing traffic volumes on Barrett Parkway and Chastain Road respectively.

Such “creative placemaking” projects as Aviation Park, at the end of the Cobb County International Project have also been created, with its aviation-themed playground.

The CID is by no means abandoning its emphasis on infrastructure. As an example, phase three of the Barrett Reliever will head to construction this fall. That will extend the roadway over I-75. It’s the district’s spinoff, the non-profit Town Center Community Alliance, which focuses on the placemaking and collaborative economic development piece.

They recently finished accepting a round of proposals for a $60,000 study recommending where future placemaking efforts should go and what they may look like. The deadline was May 27 and the proposals are being evaluated now.

“We understand the importance of bringing placemaking and infrastructure projects together,” said Tracy Styf, the executive director of the improvement district.

“Our goal is for the area to look like a vibrant community that has lots of gathering places and areas where people want to be.”

She cited Aviation Park is one such, with families arriving there regularly for picnics on the lawn, birthday parties or to simply watch planes take off and land. The Noonday Creek trail has been another, bringing bikers, pedestrians and skaters together.

The planned study is to build on that and other existing efforts to create what the district calls “places of celebration, “ that help foster a local identity.

Placemaking projects also tie in with economic development, she indicated, for example getting people out to walk or bike rather than driving from their offices to lunch. Such projects have improved property values, said Styf.

The 25-year-old CID has been successful on that and other fronts, with a rising tide of such values and business expansions and relocations.

The district itself is 6.25 square miles and is composed of 275 commercial property owners who pay a voluntary tax to help fund improvements making the area more attractive for business and a draw for visitors. A total of $169.6 million has been leveraged and $58.5 million has been invested to that date, according to the agency’s 2020 annual report.

Whichever consultant develops the master planning project will look at many facets, including focusing on such major corridors as Barrett and Busbee parkways and Chastain Road. They’ll identify potential placemaking projects in those areas, engaging the public through meetings and other strategies and making specific recommendations for projects that could include public art, signage and wayfinding, structure sand shade installations, community events and cultural programming.

One example of public art: a colorful abstract mural to be painted on the side of the I-75 overpass over the Noonday Creek Trail, noted Jennifer Hogan, the director of the Alliance.

“This is something that we did with a task force with a broad range of individuals across the community,” said Styf. “They got applications from all over the country.”

She added that “We partnered with the Georgia Department of Transportation on that and it took about two years to work through the approvals so we’re now at a place where we’re finalizing the documentation.”

The mural is expected to be complete this summer.

As for the timing of the overall placemaking plan, Hogan says a small committee of staff, board members and members of the community will select the consultant, with a larger steering committee guiding the project to completion.

She says it’s hoped that the study itself will kick off by late this summer and be complete before the end of the year.