The 2024 master plan is a document the city council and Downtown Development Authority plan to use as a general guideline when considering improvements to the downtown area. Early in the discussion, council member Kari Hodge said she was concerned about where visitors would park if the downtown area grows as city and business leaders would like it to.
“I don’t think overflow traffic from LakePoint, when it hits, is going to be a problem,” she said. “I think everybody’s going to disperse within a 45-mile radius from Emerson. ... The biggest problem with this plan, in my opinion, is we can talk about all this good stuff we want to do, but if there’s nowhere to park downtown, where are they going to go?
“... There is going to be a point where the more we get growth-wise and the more we get travel in, the less opportunity downtown’s going to have to grow because there’s nowhere for anybody to go. We got to get somewhere for somebody to park. That can be a 10-year goal in my opinion, it can be a 2-year goal in my opinion, but it is something we really need to talk about.”
The master plan draft describes the possibility of building a parking deck on either city property on Erwin Street or county property on Cherokee Street. Another possibility focused on improved signage to designate public parking areas or remodeling the parking lot between city hall and the old fire station to provide more parking.
As the discussion got underway, Mayor Matt Santini noted the council would not be required to follow through with any of the projects within the master plan.
“I say that only from the standpoint that we either support it or don’t support it, but by us approving what the DDA’s long-term plan is, it doesn’t connect us or obligate us to the funding pieces of doing the things that are necessary,” he said, “because a lot of this, quite frankly, is long-term planning. It’s wish list. It’s best-case scenario. It’s what you would really like to see.
“Some of it is practical. Some of it, quite frankly — I mean in the economic conditions that we’re in — [it’s] impractical. You talk about a parking deck. You talk about a couple of other, you know, a couple of other things to do with the fire station, things like that, those are — you have to dream big and I think this is more of a dream big document ... There’s going to be elements in this that you like and some that you don’t like, and we can certainly revise it.”
The parking discussion later touched on what to do with the old fire station and the dentist office between the station and city hall. One idea called for demolishing the dentist office, using the area for additional parking and creating a new plaza area around the fountain in front of city hall. The same idea also called for a reorganization of parking spaces in the area as well.
As the discussion continued, the council turned to the fire station itself, as well as the old Cartersville police headquarters. DDA Director Tara Currier said her organization would like to see some form of stage put into the fire station’s bays for performances, such as the Bluegrass Festival, or perhaps use it as an additional venue for the farmers market. Other proposals included turning the station into council chambers and extra office space for the city, office space to be rented or loft apartments.
City Manager Sam Grove said the council needed to consider short-term work to keep the buildings in shape.
“Well, I think we’re — relative to the buildings that we own, sooner or later we’re going to have to put some maintenance into them or use them for something else. [The fire station], the dentist office, the police station, I don’t know what the present condition of those are, but if we’re going to keep them, we’re at least going to have to maintain the exterior of them. That’s something else to think about, too,” he said.
As the meeting turned toward physical work to improve the downtown area, such as possibly closing Wall Street under the Church Street bridge — making it a pedestrian-only zone — and removing or lowering the planters on the downtown sidewalks, the council began to discuss festivals and similar events the area could host. The idea of a festival ordinance, in turn, led the council to discuss the possibility of alcohol being served at such events. The alcohol discussion also touched on a topic mentioned in the surveys done for the master plan draft: improving Cartersville’s nightlife offerings.
Assistant City Attorney Keith Lovell said any discussion about alcohol and the city’s liability in terms of festivals was complicated by the twin factors of a state highway and railroad running through the downtown area.
Toward the end of the meeting, the council determined it would prefer to have another work session to discuss the specific issues of festivals and alcohol in the downtown area.
“My only thing is, in regards to all that, is there are a lot of ideas out there and they’ve come from a number of places,” said Santini. “But when things get put into resolution form and other committees or commissions start looking at them it almost, by the time it makes its way through that, it almost, there’s a perception that we’re kind of ready to make a decision on that. I think, perhaps, in this case, I mean, I’d like to have a conversation with council to see what is the temperature on these things before they get written.”
Among the changes made to the draft will be language specifying any project will be subject to available funding and final approval by the council, as some council members were concerned about approving a master plan calling for specific projects but not approving those projects at a later date.
“My final point on this is, as you look through the list of what’s the most important, least important things, you can sort of itemize these as which ones are going to cost us money and which ones aren’t,” said council member Jayce Stepp. “And by approving this, those that are going to cost us money, you know if the DDA brings it to us, it’s going to be tough to speak out of both sides of our mouth.
“Yes, we approved this and they come up and they go, ‘Well, this doesn’t cost us any money, this is just a code change, so you sort of already approved it in your master plan, why are you not now?’ So I think over the next meetings we’re definitely going to have to hash these things out.”
Other ideas discussed within the master plan is the possibility of having wifi installed in the downtown area, the likelihood of expanding the DDA’s boundaries and improving the appearance of the Church Street bridge.
The draft is slated to go before the city council during its second November meeting.