While most cities in Georgia began with downtowns – a few shops, a train depot, maybe a post office and then houses surrounding the commercial center – some cities have to create that traditional feel of a city. Sandy Springs, one of Georgia’s newer cities, is beginning the process this spring of creating a downtown where none exists.
“A downtown area helps strengthen a sense of community by providing common, public space for people to gather,” said Mayor Eva Galambos. “It creates a hub for people to meet, talk, shop and work. It builds connections. A strong downtown also helps a city in the financial sense, providing a foundation for growth in attracting and retaining business. “
The first step in building a downtown is the master planning process. The city, in partnership with Boston-based Goody Clancy, will spend several weeks beginning in May conducting the first phase of the planning process by taking a close look at the city in terms of market analysis, population and employment projections, community design, sustainability, as well as urban development and design. The city’s master planner will conduct interviews with key stakeholders comprised of city leadership, property owners, residents, Chamber of Commerce members, retailers, restaurant owners, historic and cultural groups, advocacy groups and more.
“Public input is an integral component of this process. We want to make certain that everyone, from residents to business and property owners, have an opportunity to participate as we develop and refine the plan, priorities and action steps of the master planning process,” said Galambos.
Each of the planned public meetings will focus on a phase of the planning process. During the May meeting, representatives from Goody Clancy will seek public input focusing on identifying the public’s thoughts regarding city assets, challenges for redevelopment and what they would like to see in a downtown area.
“The final plan for Sandy Springs will be a detailed plan unique to the city with places and activities that benefit every member of the community. To build that plan, we will conduct our work in phases. As we go through each phase and each step in the process, we will engage the community to update them on our progress as well as gather feedback,” said David Dixon, Principal-in-Charge of Planning & Urban Design for Goody Clancy.
A draft of the master plan for citizen review is expected to be ready in late Fall 2012.
The city faces some challenges in creating a new downtown. “Our major employment centers are not in downtown, and for retail, we are competing with the nearby mall. We have to be very imaginative to come up with a downtown that has an economic reality,” said Galambos. “The planning process provides the city with the opportunity to conduct analysis, develop strategies and most importantly, involve citizens and the business community in the planning so that our end result is a downtown that is competitive for business and a community center for our residents.”