Face Off: Improving quality of life in the Atlanta region

Face Off: Improving quality of life in the Atlanta region

2023-02-02T12:31:36-05:00February 2nd, 2023|Atlanta, Economy, Face Off, Government|

Writer: by Gabriela Enamorado

2 min read February 2023 Government leaders in the Atlanta region are consistently looking at ways to improve quality of life in their cities. Beautification efforts, development opportunities, balancing greenspace and infrastructure, transit and walkable communities are just some of the efforts being used to meet this goal. With Focus:, Al Thurman, mayor of the City of Powder Springs, and Mario Avery, mayor of the City of Fairburn, share their insights and efforts to maintain and improve upon their respective cities’ strengths and position their areas for future growth.  

What makes Powder Spring attractive to new and relocating businesses?

Al Thurman: We have available acreage to develop and redevelop, are located near one of the largest intermodal railroad facilities in the region and have easy access to the airport, Atlanta and several interstates. This, in addition to our open and accessible attitude, makes us attractive to developers. Recently, we annexed property to facilitate the development of a 347,000 square foot logistics project. This is now under construction, and when completed will employ up to 200 people. This is crucial because we are looking at how we can create jobs within the city so that people do not have to leave the city itself. We balance this goal with the desire to protect our small town charm and history. Eight out of 10 people we talk to describe Powder Springs as having this unique, historical small-town feel. Moreover, people feel safe within this city. It is a walkable city and there are many activities and community parks that are attractive to both the public, visitors and businesses

What were some of the biggest milestones for the city of Fairburn in 2022? 

Mario Avery: One of the biggest milestones for us was the American Rescue Plan Act. The Fairburn City Council decided to take the $6.2 million that was awarded in American Rescue money and use it as replenishment funds. We also took part of that money and hired an economic development consultant. We are currently talking about issuing facades for businesses Downtown because we believe image is everything. We want the face of our Downtown businesses to look consistent. I noticed that in some other cities, there is a visually consistent look for the Downtown area. As well as modifying the facades, we are talking about having murals installed in the Downtown area. One of the things we have learned is that every avenue we use to create a marketing strategy makes our Downtown area more attractive, and also creates events that will lure people Downtown. Another achievement we have made is in updating current zoning ordinances. We have so far made amendments to the Highway 74 overlay. 

How are you managing that balance between having green space and infrastructure growth?

Thurman: It’s a very delicate balance, especially as the city is growing. We’ve had so many growth opportunities coming to our city that we elected to impose a six-month moratorium just to pause and look at the impact of all of this growth and to make sure we have the infrastructure and resources to support all of it. We do not want our success to be our downfall. This pause will allow us to maintain what we have as well as look at what’s on the drawing board, allowing us to better plan and accommodate our future projects and growth, especially in relation to transit opportunities. For example, Cobb County is looking at up to a 1% sales tax for additional transit, which will be on the referendum in 2024, and the cities would like to support this initiative if our communities can directly benefit. We’ve had discussions with the county as to what exactly the citizens will get out of it as they are paying that 1%. We want to look at local transit or transit supportive needs to make sure that those needs can be met. Also, maybe we can provide free transit for college students and discounted fares for seniors and veterans. It is exactly these types of transit approaches that will make things more human and personal because sometimes you must provide transit where the people are, not just where the businesses are. After all, for businesses to flourish, you need people to get to them.

How have your goals of diversifying the economy progressed? 

Avery: I want diversity on our boards, in planning and zoning, and in other critical agencies. I also want it in our city. The Hispanic and Asian communities are still largely underrepresented in critical community forums. The good news is that some progress is starting to be made. This year during the Fairburn Festival, the Hispanic Heritage Parade was an hour and a half long. Now we want to reach out to all the communities. If I have a diverse community in housing, in business and on our boards, we get the perspective of what’s important in every arena. 

One thing I think will help toward goals of diversification is the Student Institute, which I am resurrecting from the previous administration. Students obtain academic credit for attending the Student Institute, where we bring in elected officials and other people of influence to talk to students. We’ve had students recruited by these universities from this initiative. 

What are your priorities for your city for the next two to three years? 

Thurman: My priority is to see some of the major projects through in regard to what we already have on the drawing board. It is such a process of engineering from start to finish on these projects. I have 20 years of experience in this, so when I lead these projects, I want them to be done in the best way possible. I want to make sure that the legacy that I leave is a sound one and that the city continues to thrive. We are also going to have to be more sensitive to homelessness and taking care of people within the community. As we move forward both on the county and city level, it is going to be crucial to look at templates of how we can deal with homelessness, mental illness, and those areas, as they will be more prevalent in the near future due to inflation issues and all the other things that are going on in the world. We want to preempt these issues from becoming major areas of concern in the near future.

Avery: As well as the Parks Master Plan, we are working on a multipurpose center in Flagship Park for recreation, business events and concerts. I am excited about the Downtown Development Authority’s plans to bring in a major restaurant, which is in the early stages now. This is another avenue to increase traffic. One thing we are doing is looking at ways that we could enhance Downtown to make it more walkable and user-friendly. We created a site plan of walkable areas in Downtown off the main street that will connect the three main segments of the city. We are holding events to draw people in as we renovate the facades, including a concert planned for Fall 2023. We are also proud of our developments on Highway 74.

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