Decatur Next

Town Center Plan

Fall 1982

The work of the Downtown Redevelopment Task Force was presented to City Commission in 1982 and adopted thereafter as official city policy.

Establishing a torch-bearer tasked with the plan’s implementation, the Commission adopted a resolution creating the first Downtown Development Authority (DDA). The DDA could buy, sell and lease property, make contracts, borrow money, receive and use government grants and issue private activity bonds. Its seven-member board, appointed by the Decatur City Commission, assumed the role of advocate and advisor to the City Commission on issues related to downtown development.

The plan itself was organized according to the following ten goals, together with the date(s) each goal was implemented:

Goal 1 : Define the Edge of Downtown
Citizens recognized that to have an “image,” downtown has to become a special place. It has to be different from the rest of Decatur and, if possible, it has to be unique in the Atlanta region. It has to have character and identity.

  • Adopted marketing strategy that involved selling Decatur’s small town character. Focused on strengthening a sense of community and a connection between residents and downtown. (1984)
  • Implemented a yearlong calendar of special events focused on downtown to bring new life and interest in the central business district. (1985)
  • Improved marketing and distribution of city logo t-shirts and license plates. (1987)
  • Initiated the Decatur Arts Festival. (1988)
  • Began publication of Decatur Focus newsletter, a joint publication of the City of Decatur, the Downtown Development Authority and the Decatur Business Association to market a unified image and provide a central source for information related to downtown and the community. (1989)
  • Installed special downtown street signs with funding provided by Decatur Business Association. (1990)
  • Began publication of an annual Retail and Restaurant Guide for downtown. (1990)
  • Began to focus on developing strong media contacts. (1991)
  • Developed a downtown streetscapes master plan and implemented Phase I of the program. (1995)
  • Adopted downtown design standards. (1998)
  • Implemented Phase II and Phase III of the downtown streetscape master plan. (2001)
  • Continue to develop annual advertising and marketing plan that targets specific audience.

Goal 2 : Improve Access and Parking in Downtown 
Streets are basically adequate to handle traffic loads and parking, if more efficiently used, is adequate for downtown’s normal daily needs.

  • Worked with the City of Decatur on series of downtown traffic plans. Improvements included additional signage, widening sidewalks and upgrading traffic signals. These issues are ongoing and require constant reassessment.
  • Conducted a parking survey to identify available parking spaces both short-term and long-term. (1992, 2000)
  • Assumed management of downtown metered parking. (1996)
  • Experimented with valet parking downtown. (1997)
  • Published downtown parking brochure. (1998)
  • Included traffic and parking issues in updated Strategic Plan. (2000)
  • Initiated conversations with Clifton Corridor Transportation Management Authority to explore opportunities for expanded shuttle bus service in downtown Decatur. (2000)
  • Upgraded parking brochure and signage. (2001)
  • Proposed development of downtown parking master plan. (2002)

Goal 3 : Interrelate Different Scales and Types of Development 
Vibrant downtowns are places in which diversity of scales and uses co-exist in a vital atmosphere… these must be interrelated in such a way that new high density development opportunities can be encouraged without sacrificing traditional values and character.

  • Work with developers to incorporate essential design components into new commercial buildings to assure that they complement existing character of the downtown district. (ongoing)
  • Focus on balancing development types by encouraging a mix of office, retail/restaurant and residential development downtown. (ongoing)
  • Successfully negotiated with developer to redesign Ponce Plaza building to avoid a concrete plaza concept on a key corner. (1992)
  • Secured a developer to build our first downtown residential, mixed use development project. (1997)
  • Advocated for change in downtown zoning district to increase allowable density for residential units from 42 units per acre to 70 units per acre.
  • Negotiated with developer and CVS drugstore to reconfigure new retail development project in the downtown district. (1998)
  • Helped draft new downtown design standards to strengthen ability to control design issues related to minimum and maximum height, the placement of parking, retail use on the ground floor and to limit construction of drive through facilities in downtown district.(1998)
  • Updated downtown design standards and expanded impact area. (2001)

Goal 4: Conserve Decatur’s Small-Town Scale 
Citizens asked for the encouragement of more small shops and opportunities for new merchants… for landscape and streetscape treatments that would make downtown Decatur a delightful and safe place for pedestrians night and day.

  • Focused on reinforcing the Old Courthouse Square as the defining element of small town character. (1983 – ongoing)
  • Developed and maintain listings of available retail spaces, rental rates and tenant prospects. (1984 – ongoing)
  • Assist tenant prospects with business plans, demographic data and lease negotiations. (1984 – ongoing)
  • Targeted the Peasant Group Restaurant and led a sales team to convince them to open a restaurant in downtown Decatur. (1985)
  • Worked diligently to protect the small retail shops fronting Courthouse Square until market demand could be generated. (1992)
  • Initiated the implementation of a successful downtown streetscape improvement project. (1995 – ongoing)
  • Funded a retail market analysis to help with retail recruitment. (1995, 2000)
  • Purchased the historic First National Bank building from DeKalb County and found a private buyer and new retail tenants. (1996)
  • Helped protect the Houston House from demolition until a new owner and a retail use could be found. (1997)
  • Successfully marketed an old gas station building for more suitable retail use. (1997)
  • Successfully directed retail/restaurant marketing strategy that resulted in 30% net increase in new locally owned retail/restaurant businesses. (current)
  • Continued implementation of downtown streetscape master plan. (ongoing)
  • Work with new developments to assure the construction of small retail/restaurant space on the ground floor that is oriented to the sidewalk in all new projects. (ongoing)

Goal 5: New Development Should Reinforce the Existing Scale 
The citizens expressed fears that, without guidelines backed by policies that encourage compatible development the small-town scale addressed in Goal 4 could be destroyed.

  • Challenged to recreate the small-town character that had been demolished through Urban Renewal programs in the 1960s and began to articulate design criteria that addressed what small-town character meant. (1984)
  • Adopted a “Main Street” approach to downtown development working to educate developers, political leaders, business leaders and citizens about our vision for downtown. (1984)
  • Incorporated commercial design standards into the Decatur Design Guidelines Manual. (1997)
  • Adopted stronger set of design standards for downtown business district following difficult negotiations with a developer and CVS drugstore. (1998)
  • Continued negotiation with every new development/developer to assure appropriate design and tenant mix. (ongoing)

Goal 6: Optimize the MARTA System 
The citizens requested a reconception of the station in such a way that its physical integration into its surrounding fabric could also enhance the saleable image of the downtown as a unique place for the region’s ridership to visit and enjoy.

  • The transformation of the MARTA station presents a complicated and expensive problem. We have initiated many changes over the years both small and large that have resulted in significant improvements to the problem.
  • Removal of arbor structure and large planters that obstructed view. (1985).
  • Removal of damaged landscaping materials and several large planter boxes at Church Street entrance. (1986)
  • Worked with City staff and City Commissioners to reroute several bus lines to reduce congestion in Church Street Corridor. (1988)
  • Participated with city staff and city commission and the Decatur Business Association to negotiate the construction of a new $5 million bus to rail facility and remove all bus traffic from Church Street. (1995)
  • Created a MARTA Mall Task Force and worked with a design team to develop a master plan for redesigning the MARTA mall area to better incorporate the area into Old Courthouse Square. (1999)
  • Planned implementation of Phase I & II of MARTA Mall Master Plan. (2002-2003)

Goal 7: Develop Incentives for New Infill Structures 
The citizens were sensitive to the number of empty sites on street frontages in the downtown… the erosion of traditional street frontages and… requested guidelines for new infill structures that would accord in scale and design with traditional frontages.

  • Worked with One and Two Town Center and the Ponce de Leon Plaza building to show that new buildings can blend with historic, commercial district. (1984, 1987, 1992)
  • Funded a retail market analysis. (1995)
  • Funded the development of streetscape improvements to make downtown more attractive. (1995)
  • Funded downtown housing market study. (1996)
  • Developed aggressive marketing strategy to work with existing property owners, potential developers and tenant prospects to encourage new development. (ongoing)
  • Aggressively pursue development options for vacant parking lots and assure that new developments conform with design standards. (ongoing)

Goal 8: Explore Opportunities for Housing Downtown 
The traditional downtown was a commercial and residential core. {The citizens} looked for opportunities and guidelines for new residential development within the ring road, particularly in the area of Sycamore Street east of the MARTA station.

  • Adopted the development of downtown housing as a priority goal. (1993)
  • Focused on moving the MARTA buses off of Church Street to improve the appearance of the block. (1994)
  • Updated property information, identified sites, paid for an independent appraisal of the proposed development block, met with property owners and began courting developers. (1994)
  • Contracted for the development of a preliminary housing market analysis. (1995)
  • Purchased property from MARTA to operate as a parking lot and hold for development of residential condominiums. (1997)
  • Proposed a zoning amendment change to increase the density of residential developments in the downtown commercial district to 70 units per acre. (1997)
  • Worked with developers to secure the Ice House and negotiate with the neighborhoods to get a loft apartment project that all parties could support. (1997)
  • Successfully negotiated a development deal for a residential condominium and retail project with Ultima Holdings for downtown site. (1997)
  • Worked with Harold A. Dawson, Inc. on the sale of the First Union property and the approval of zoning variances necessary for the construction of a 98-unit residential condominium and retail project. (1999)
  • Added over 250 living units in downtown Decatur. (2000-2001)
  • Working with developers on approved plans for an additional 150 residential units. (2002)

Goal 9: Create Demonstration Development on the Candler Hotel Block
As the planning process moved forward, it became clear that the Candler Hotel Block provided an opportunity to demonstrate how a high-density office and commercial development, including a new hotel, could be integrated into the traditional downtown.

  • The Candler Hotel block was developed as proposed and includes two new office buildings and retains the block of retail properties that house Mick’s, By Hand South and the Masonic Temple building. The office building was designed to have retail use on the ground floor in the future. (1985)
  • The proposed hotel was built on Clairemont Ave instead of the Candler Hotel block. The hotel was developed with private funds including bonds issued through the Decatur Downtown Development Authority. The parking deck and the conference center were built and are owned by the City of Decatur through the Development Authority. (1988)

Goal 10: Seek an Image for Downtown
Citizens felt that a coordinating theme should be found that would distill in one or more simple images the rebirth of the downtown as the heart and focus of Decatur and symbolize its uniqueness in the region.

  • Developed a positive image of Decatur’s small town character through festivals, publications and public relations campaigns. (1984 – ongoing)
  • Created recognition that downtown Decatur is the heart of the city and its health and vitality is critical to the health and vitality of the entire community.
  • Focused attention on creating a strong sense of place for the City of Decatur that centered on downtown Decatur and the Old Courthouse Square. (1985 – ongoing)
  • Developed a visual connection between the Old Courthouse Square and downtown Decatur and worked to assure that the Old Courthouse was successfully renovated. (1991)
  • Focused on improving retail storefronts, signage and streetscapes to create a pleasant pedestrian atmosphere.
  • Constructed the Decatur Bandstand as a focus for festivals and concerts on the square. (1996)
  • Developed a marketing campaign to nurture the image of Decatur as the “downtown” for Atlanta’s in-town neighborhoods. (1996)
  • Continued to work with Atlanta area media to develop a positive image of the City of Decatur and the downtown commercial district. (ongoing)
  • Expanded targeted advertising to reach larger areas of the metropolitan Atlanta area. (1998)
  • Developing specific advertising focused on the downtown Atlanta convention and visitors market and high tech industries. (2000)

It is important to note that our successful downtown redevelopment program is not the work of any one individual or any one organization. In fact, our success is directly attributable to the strong public-private partnerships that exist in our community. The Decatur City Commission, the Decatur Downtown Development Authority and the Decatur Business Association share a common vision for downtown Decatur and are committed to the goals of the Decatur Town Center Plan.

Suburban development did more than create traffic problems in our cities. Suburbanization fragmented community. When business leaders no longer live where they work; residents have no personal connection with business owners; and government leaders do not interact with the community outside of their official capacity, it is hard to foster a strong sense of community and plan together for a meaningful future.

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