We are delighted the UGA folks found this a nice place to visit ... but the rest of us actually live here and perhaps can see things not readily apparent on the surface. Because of this, some of the offered ideas appear to misfire, or need a bit of tinkering.
The thrust of the new vision offered by the Fanning Institute is one of expanded aesthetics (medians, trees, signature brick-inlay sidewalks) to create “gateways” signaling arrival in Rome’s heart. It is mostly good stuff and quite affordable to accomplish. Compared to when UGA experts were asked to come up with similar ideas back in 1965 it is actually downright sane as well.
This study cost the city/downtown interests $25,000 to have done. The one in 1965 cost $37,000 — which was actually 10 times more or $250,000 in 2012 U.S. dollars — and said there were only three ways to deal with downtown, at the time pretty much only Broad Street. Those were: 1) tear the whole thing down and start over; 2) just let it alone and do nothing and 3) tear half of it down and turn what was left into a pedestrian mall surrounded by a sea of car parking. The third option was recommended ... and thank goodness Rome’s leaders came up with their own fourth option: Just let it all alone and start improving on what is there.
What consultant Danny Bivins recently offered by way of 2012 ideas to city movers and shakers was done in oral summation form. The full printed report will show up next year and may well contain items not mentioned to this point. For example, to further belabor a point repeatedly made here for many years, there is more to a historic appearance than looking like a Hollywood movie set façade. That did not appear to get mentioned.
There really has been history made here — lots and lots of it — but the statues of commemoration are far between or pretty selective (Civil War? What Civil War?) as are informational plaques and descriptive signage.
IT’S NOT JUST the “Late Unpleasantness” that is lost from sight either. Cherokee Nation … what Cherokee Nation? Big steamboat port … what are steamboats? Main regional medical/hospital center now, sure … but also 150 years ago, who knew? Some of the patients who did not make it are buried, row upon row, up on Myrtle Hill.
Additionally, some major items such as dolling up the “gateways” to the oldest part of downtown may overlook the obvious. If medians, brick-inlay sidewalks and long lines of trees are to be added why not erase all those ugly power/phone poles at the same time and put all that stuff underground and out of sight? That costs more than planting a Bradford pear, to be sure, but why do something like this halfway and have it wind up looking like the upgrade done to the lower end of South Broad/East Main?
Wiping out places for birds to roost upon other than branches is part of what makes redone Franklin, Tenn., which our city leaders visited a couple of years ago as a model for what could be, look do neat and tidy. It made all those wires disappear.
While desiring to encourage the main flow/direction of this new UGA study there is also, on some of the individual suggestions, a need to add some “Hey! Just wait a minute!” cautionary words about some stuff that perhaps sounds better than it is once one knows more about the lay of the land.
Still, much of this echoes suggestions/proposals made on this page over many years. Perhaps the University of Georgia should consider awarding the Rome News-Tribune an honorary doctorate in urban planning.
FOR EXAMPLE, UGA “discovered” the Fifth Avenue corridor across the Oostanaula River, the first two blocks of which are dominated by old buildings that echo the appearance of Broad Street. The consultants suggested it be used for an “art district.” Close, but no prize. This paper has oft pointed out it would be an ideal “adult entertainment zone” where libations and music could pour forth all night long as there are almost no residential neighbors to annoy and it is in view of the joint police headquarters.
Besides, Broad Street itself is already the art/cultural district — DeSoto Theatre, City Auditorium, The Forum, dance studios, artist center and so forth … plus unlike Fifth it has loft/residential spaces to remodel that could become, or be above, art studios.
And regarding the aesthetics of Fifth Avenue: Under the asphalt paving remains the original brick street such as Broad Street once was. Peel that layer off and it would look even more historic than Broad does.
This is not to say more that isn’t pizza, beer and big-screen TVs wouldn’t be most desirable in the central city. A movie theater with a variety of the sort of fare rarely shown locally would be wonderful: olden-days classics, foreign films, award-winning documentaries. There have to be more than once-in-a-while reasons to venture downtown, particularly in the evenings.
As for the suggestion that West Third Street (where the big hotel is planned) could use office space development … that is sure not the priority it should be assigned. First, there remains a good bit of office space along Broad to either fill or convert. Second, West Third needs retailing on the street level with apartments/condos above.
Getting people to shop downtown and live downtown is key to any continuing revival. One wants the city’s core to be alive 24/7/365 and not only 8-to-5, M-F.
SOME PLEASANT suggestions could be tricker than they appear. Lining the “sidewalk” areas of Turner McCall Boulevard with trees in imitation of Broad itself from the Etowah River Bridge almost to the Days Inn will encounter at least one problem only natives know about. On the East First Street corner is the very busy CVS pharmacy with already challenging ingress/egress concerns. Getting in and out of there with a left turn in particular already means challenging some of the heaviest traffic flows in town. Adding trees to possibly hide what will be coming at you next is not a happy idea.
Terracing the levee to provide seating for spectators viewing events on the river is a useful concept but puts the cart before the horse. What events? The Fourth of July festivities are no longer held there. The Christmas parade of lighted boats disappeared long ago as fast as it came. Even the rubber-ducky fund raiser has departed.
First, the community needs to float some river-based events; then it can worry about where the attending crowds will sit.
As for the consultant’s belief that the Publix going in opposite Floyd Medical Center would provide downtown residents with the grocery store they would like — huh? The existing Kroger is about the same distance from them.
What those growing numbers of “city dwellers” need is a bodega — a small convenience store without gas pumps at which they can drop in (on foot) for beer/soda and chips, a frozen dinner or a bottle of aspirin, a lottery ticket or pack of cigarettes. And centrally located as well, such as on the Third or Fourth Avenue side streets.
As for prettying up the Second Avenue entryway to the original part of the central city by painting a mural on the corrugated metal retaining wall at West Third Street — great idea! Assuming the city’s image censors can agree on the concept, content, design and style. How’s about a mural showing the Yankee “Mule Brigade” being brought into Rome as prisoners? After all, they were marched into town right past that very spot. See what we mean?
And should it look like something that Picasso did … or Norman Rockwell?
A fallback position might be just to trellis the site and plant evergreen climbing ivy.
ALL THIS is meant to encourage greater community discussion of a master plan that in its general theme is excellent. Indeed, one of the main purposes of doing such studies, particularly using the eyes of those not resident here, is precisely to kick-start discussion within a community and its members on how to make a good, attractive place even better. One of the problems with all hometowns is their familiarity creating a comfort zone where the natural resistance to change (except among the young) is inclined to leave everything alone.
This new planning proposal has lots of interesting — and affordable — things to consider. Best of all, there’s absolutely no hint in the view of experts, as there was in 1965, that Greater Romans have so botched things up that they should consider tearing everything down and starting all over again.