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Whole new year: Georgia Mayor's plans include tourism center, trolley system
Hilary Butschek | The Marietta Daily Journal


Plans are underway to completely rebuild the Metro Center on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Mayor Steve Tumlin has big plans for 2015, including a city trolley, a Cobb Galleria-like development off Franklin Road and a new tourism center on the Square. 

Tumlin plans to propose a trolley on wheels that will circle the museums and shops in Marietta at the City Council agenda work session meeting tonight.

The mayor’s proposal includes between two and four trollies running on wheels set to make stops at WellStar Kennestone Hospital, the Aviation Wing of the Marietta Museum of History, and the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw. 

“The Marietta Kiwanis Club and Micky Blackwell did a big study on this about 8 years ago, and it failed for lack of money. But, it was well-received,” Tumlin said. 

Starting up the trolley system could cost about $75,000 to $120,000, Tumlin said. He suggested funding could come from the city’s hotel/motel tax and the Downtown Marietta Development Authority.

Tumlin said the DMDA previously purchased the pedicabs used by Marietta residents Brian and Cassandra Buckalew, who run the tourism businesses Marietta Pedicabs, Marietta Trolley Company and Marietta Ghost Tours in town.

Tumlin said as long as the trolley system is used for tourism purposes in Marietta, the DMDA and hotel/motel tax can help with funding. 

“If we can brand it as a tourism product, we could go a lot further,” Tumlin said.

Additionally, the trolley could shuttle Marietta residents to SunTrust Park when it opens in 2017, Tumlin said. 

To do this, Tumlin suggested using the 8.7 acres the Marietta Redevelopment Corporation owns on West Dixie and Hedges streets as a parking lot where trolley riders could leave their cars and take a trip to shop on the Square, visit a museum, or on nights when the Braves play at home, watch a ballgame at SunTrust Park.

“I’d love to see where we have all that MRC property — or adjacent to it — build off-Square parking there and have the trolley get people to the Square or Kennestone. Then 81 nights a year, have a Marietta tie-in to the Braves world and have the trolley go south to the stadium,” Tumlin said.

Tumlin said it might take some convincing for Ron Francis, MRC chairman, to allow the city to use the group’s land for parking. 

“I met with Ron Francis, and their mindset now is get rid of the acres as commercial property,” Tumlin said. 

The MRC is a tax-exempt organization formed by the City Council in 2003. In 2006, it received $2.1 million from the city to be used as a land-buying fund. It used that money to secure a loan from Bank of North Georgia and began buying property across from the Hilton Marietta Conference Center. The plan was to turn over that property to a developer, but the MRC has been unsuccessful in that effort.

Tumlin said there are other properties the city could buy to realize his proposal of building a parking lot off the Square for a city trolley. 

The mayor believes the trolley is an ideal way to commemorate Marietta’s past. Tumlin said his late aunt, Katheryn Tumlin, used to ride the electric trolley that ran from the Marietta Square to Atlanta to get to and from work every day in the 1940s until it was closed in 1948. Those trains docked in what is now Tumlin’s law office, so he’s reminded of that part of the past frequently, he said.

“My idea of the trolley is just a way to hold onto the past. It won’t be quite the same,” Tumlin said.

The trolley will also help to revive commercial business in Marietta, an area of the local economy that Tumlin said is dwindling, compared to residential growth.

“We’ve been ultra-successful with residential, and that’s actually concerning me,” Tumlin said.

For example, Tumlin said John Wieland Homes is opting to remove the once-planned commercial piece along Roswell Street in its Meeting Park development, turning the entire development residential. 

Tumlin said the trolley would shuttle visitors and residents around the shops of Marietta, which will hopefully spur the commercial growth he believes Marietta needs.

Changes to Square

The council will discuss options for where to put a new tourism center at tonight’s meeting, but Tumlin has already made up his mind where he’d like to see it go. He said the existing center, which is just off the train tracks by the Marietta Museum of History, should “absolutely” be moved to a new building he wants to see constructed on the empty lot Councilman Philip Goldstein owns on North Park Square.

The fenced-off hole at 77 North Park Square, near the Strand Theatre, has been empty since 2010, when Goldstein razed a 1917-era, two-story building where the late Paul Cuthbertson operated his optometry clinic.

Yet Goldstein said he has a tenant for the building and made a move last week to start building a restaurant and brew pub on the lot.

“It’s currently under a lease,” Goldstein said Sunday. “The plans were filed last week for the new building. The plans are for a three-story (building) and a rooftop patio, and construction is planned to start about mid-August.”

The Marietta Visitors Bureau is 1,600 square feet and Goldstein’s lot would provide 34,800 square feet over two floors. The lot was last assessed to be worth $343,440, according to the city. The city estimates building a new tourism building there could cost between $2 to $3 million depending on the sales price and building design. 

The city has the option of taking Goldstein’s property by eminent domain if it can make a sufficient case as to why the city needs it for the public good, the mayor said. 

“We would have to load it up to have a compelling governmental reason to condemn it. We won’t have a willing seller,” Tumlin said. 

The tourism center Tumlin proposes for the Goldstein lot would include an information office offering brochures and guides to visitors, as well as a ticket booth for local shows and museums. The building could also house public bathrooms, Tumlin said. 

“Everything we would put in there would be tourism oriented. We wouldn’t put our parks staff up there or our police in there,” Tumlin said. “The reason (to condemn the lot) would have to be compelling. We couldn’t just compel it because we don’t like the hole.”

More immediate changes to the Square will begin this month on Mill and Cherokee streets.

“What will happen on the Square this year will be Mill Street and Cherokee Street. When you ride down Cherokee Street you start to see the lines being drawn. We’re going to widen the sidewalks there. We’re talking to the county to make a public entrance (to the county building off Cherokee Street where there is an employee entrance now). We think (Cherokee Street) would be used more if they’d let us have a public entrance,” Tumlin said.

The sidewalks on Mill and Cherokee streets will be extended by anywhere from a fraction of a foot to 14 feet on different portions of the roads to reduce the “zigzag” effect for drivers traveling on the roads. Construction is expected to be finished in April 2015, said Dan Conn, the city’s public works director.

Other changes to the Square include widening the sidewalk on North Park Square by 7.5 feet with construction expected to begin in Jan. 2016. 

Redeveloping Franklin Road 

Tumlin said he wants to see the city become more balanced in property use by allowing more restaurants, shops and hotels in places such as the Franklin Road corridor. 

The mayor said the growth of Kennesaw State University, which officially merged with Southern Polytechnic State University last week, as well as the new Braves stadium will increase travel through and around Marietta on Highway 41 and Interstate 75. 

Two new roads linking Cobb Parkway to Franklin Road, funded by a $68 million redevelopment bond passed in 2013. will be sketched out and ready to present to the City Council by March or April, Tumlin said. 

“That’s an area that’s underdeveloped and more commercial front and better traffic flow will help it make that transition,” Tumlin said.

The roads could open within two to two-and-a-half years after the plans are approved by council, Tumlin said.

Tumlin said he sees the Franklin Road area ripe for more local commercial growth. In fact, a Hampton Inn will soon be built on the corner of Kingston Court and Franklin Road.

Whereas the mayor previously wanted to buy aging apartment complexes, demolish them and make room for new development, Tumlin said after purchasing three — Preston Chase, Woodlands Park and Flagstone Village apartments — he’s ready for the city to get out of the apartment purchasing business.

Tumlin’s original plan for buying apartment complexes was complicated by the arrival of the Braves, which served as a promise to businesses in the area for revitalization, causing them to ask for a higher selling price, he said. 

“I think the sales we lost because of the Braves announcement will come back,” Tumlin said. “We had at least three (apartment complexes) walk away from the negotiation table. We pass the bond on a Tuesday. By the next Tuesday, the Braves announcement came out. (The apartment complex owners) thought maybe there’s something here. Everybody sees the same thing. That’s going to be a great area and the Braves are just going to jump-start it. If you would have asked me the day after it passed, I thought we’d have had five apartments. We lost three of them — not literally they tore up the contract, they just wanted more money,” Tumlin said. 

This month, the city plans to raze Woodlands Park and Flagstone Village for a cost of $2.2 million. 

With about $26 million of the $68 million bond money left, Tumlin said he’d like to use it on a multi-use development similar to the Cobb Galleria Centre.

“It’s probably going to be a big multi-use center, but it could include some apartment buildings. It’ll be along the lines of the Cobb Galleria, but without the shopping center,” Tumlin said. “The way I look at it, the Galleria is the natural place for the 200-unit multi-story, $200-a-night place. I would be happy if we got the family in for the Braves. The family or the traveler will probably be happy here.”

More development means more traffic. And Tumlin doesn’t expect such proposed solutions as county Chairman Tim Lee’s bus rapid transit line or the state’s new I-75 toll lanes to ease traffic congestion in Marietta. 

“When they finish the managed lanes, there’s going to be an entrance and exit on Roswell Street. I think it will make things worse. You don’t go there now. You gravitate either through the (exit on North Marietta Parkway or the exit on South Marietta Parkway). Now, you’ll get 25 percent of each one of those coming all the way down (State Route) 120. If you’re coming from Paulding County, you’re not going to go up to (the I-75 exit on) Canton Road or go to the (exit on the) South Loop, you’re going to go to that managed lanes, which means you’re going to go through downtown Marietta,” Tumlin said. 

The BRT might be good for other parts of the county, Tumlin said, but it’s not the solution for Marietta. Lee’s latest proposal to include east and west Cobb in the transit system by creating feeder lines that run toward a main bus route on Highway 41 would create more traffic moving through Marietta, Tumlin said. 

“To go to west Cobb, you’ve just about got to come through Marietta,” Tumlin said. “I don’t know if (the BRT) is the solution.”

Addressing traffic on Whitlock Avenue is one of the most challenging issues the city faces. The topic is so controversial, Tumlin said, that only the state can solve it because widening Whitlock would affect so many people.

“I think from a local government standpoint, if you put on (a referendum), we’re going to bulldoze your neighborhood for better traffic, it doesn’t pass,” Tumlin said. 

No millage rate increase predicted

Tumlin said the agenda for the next year is coming together. 

He expects the city to keep its millage rate the same in the next year, but that could still mean residents pay more in taxes because the digest will increase as the economy bounces back.

“Our tax digest will go up. We will not change our millage, but our taxes will go up. I doubt if we’ll say, our tax digest is up 5 percent so we’re going to cut our millage. We’re going to catch up what we lost from 2006 to 2010, but it will make it go up,” Tumlin said. 

The city has about $5 million left from the $25 million parks bond voters approved in 2009. 

The mayor said he doesn’t expect the city to take on another large park, such as the $3.5 million Elizabeth Porter Recreation Center and the $2.6 million worth of improvements to Custer Park which are under development now. 

“We’re looking at property off Whitlock that would make good parks. We’re also looking off Manget (Street). We have made solicitations to the people, but they have not responded,” Tumlin said. “Most of them will be outdoor trail and children’s equipment.”

Tumlin promised that residents will see progress in the city in the coming year.

“The state of the city is good because it’s tangible and touchable. You can see streetscapes. You’ll see Franklin Road develop,” Tumlin said.

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Whole new year Mayor s plans include tourism center trolley system