After nine months of looking and thinking, the consultants of the Fanning Institute at the University of Georgia offered up their suggestions to Rome’s leaders regarding the downtown and, correctly, started to see it all more as central Rome. (The full printed report won’t be ready for all eyes until sometime next year.)
They got it right — not perfect to our mindset, but right.
Summing up what should be the community’s general reaction to head consultant Danny Bivins’ summation of the UGA vision for Rome, City Manager John Bennett said “I really want to commend you. Most consultants try to impose their ideas on you. You evidently are a very good listener.”
And the 2012 concept is sure a huge improvement from what some UGA planning experts proposed for the old core downtown back in 1965. That one involved tearing down everything behind Broad Street along the riverfront for parking, turning all of Broad from Fourth Avenue to Turner McCall Boulevard into a parking lot, making all the remainder a pedestrian mall with “gaily colored” canopies over the sidewalks and crosswalks.
Bivins, for his part, told the local leaders that he felt certain they could make the new proposed plan work because “You guys are a can-do, and do, community.”
TRUE ENOUGH, but what can really make the thrust of the plan, which is largely aesthetic, become reality is that it doesn’t seem likely to take a great deal of money, even in tight budgetary times. It could probably be achieved a lot quicker with SPLOST help (special purpose, local option sales tax) but even should this occur it would be a very small financial piece of any proposal.
It’s also of such a nature that it can be tackled a bit at a time, with this or that item discarded, without really foiling the overall vision.
Basically, the updated crystal-ball image involves expanding the current “look” of the core downtown with its brick-inlay sidewalks, medians, trees and such beyond the boundaries of the old “historic” and Victorian-vista Broad to sort of “signal” that a zone of something different and attractive has been entered. As matters now stand, despite some directional signage, someone can pass through town and not even know the bustling historic downtown is only seconds away.
There are a lot of components to this, some of which should demand closer inspection. (See adjoining column.) Some of these include:
A thinner median than found elsewhere along Broad from Sixth Avenue (City Hall corner) to Turner McCall, also holding trees. (Aside: And extending the Christmas season “white way” of lights, please.)
More trees in marching-soldier array along the sidewalk area past the Turner McCall roadway shoulders from the Etowah River (Tom Clemons) Bridge all the way to the hilltop past West First Street. Mention of “Streetscaping” as a companion element would mean adding brick inlays to sidewalks.
Jumping past the Oostanaula River in a major way by using the Fifth Avenue corridor for an arts district and developing West Third Street (where the planned, maybe, much-discussed major hotel is going) to add office spaces.
Pay pretty-it-up attention to the Cotton Block and Second Avenue to make them obvious entry points to the historic district.
Develop a uniform approach toward dealing with and filling empty storefronts and the cavernous but empty lofts above them that cry out to respond to the demand of those wishing to live downtown. If that means having the city cut developers some regulatory slack as a policy of encouragement, instead of the oft-noisy making of exceptions, that would sure help with mental investment aesthetics.
THESE ARE just some of the larger portions of a whole passel of ideas being thrown out, including some as small as volleyball courts along the West Third side of the riverfront. Hmm … limited to female competitors in bikinis?
What is important to note, whether agreeing or not with this or that aspect, is that this new master plan is notable for two big reasons.
First, it is affordable. Just as with the current rather remarkable facelift emerging along Broad Street it requires only a shared purpose and relatively small investments from a team of public/private contributors to accomplish. It can be started right away and not have to wait until such a time when Romans are all rich, fat, happy and eager to pay more taxes.
And no one, in an official “City of Trees,” is going to protest and picket about planting yet more of them where they can be seen and enjoyed.
Second, and likely the more important, it affirms something long obvious to most of the community, but less so to those who have for so long successfully defended the historic aspects of Broad Street and worked to make its economic vitality, job-creation power and ever-younger heart and vitality be seen as sort of a “miracle.”
In the yesteryear of the Broad Street glory story now being kept alive, this strip was indeed “downtown.” Today it has actually become but the historic core of the much-larger central Rome to which it gave birth and where — let’s be honest about this — more dollars are earned and spent, more jobs generated, than along what has now become more the birthplace of a lively offspring.
IT IS NO longer simply the original six or so blocks of Broad Street that are the “downtown’’ for a county of almost 100,000 and a customer base of 300,000. To ultimately make this message and appearance apparent far more than small extensions of medians with trees and other visual signals will ultimately be needed.
Even now, when traveling from State Mutual Stadium to Myrtle Hill, from Midtown Crossing to Riverbend, even from Central Plaza pretty much out to at least Harbin Clinic, how many single-family homes will be encountered?
Rather, it is a steady passing parade of retailing, office spaces, businesses with a sprinkling of urban parklands (and medians with trees) to remind workers, and residents of whatever apartments can be found, of what the land looks like outside the enterprise zone.
When residents largely only live in or on the fringes of such, in historic districts such as Between the Rivers or Avenue A or Oakdene — reservations carved out to allow them to plant their own trees instead of relying on the whole community to do so — then it becomes easy to identify where “downtown” is to be found.
Olden-day Romans had a small downtown. Modern-day Romans have a sprawling and expanding big one. It really shouldn’t take master planners from anywhere to get all living here to see this — although providing unifying visual hints such as those proposed sure wouldn’t hurt a thing.