SMYRNA, Georgia — A fight over redeveloping this Atlanta suburb’s “downtown” section shines an interesting light on the community.
At issue is a $6.5 million project to redevelop the town green, home to the local community center, library and veterans memorial. City officials say it is the “biggest change to our downtown since the 1990s” and will include the addition of a new brewery.
On the one side, opponents have argued against bringing a brewery to the community even as dozens have cropped up over the Metro Atlanta area in recent years. On the other hand, proponents have adopted various arguments, including the city is behind the times and needs to update what they see as one of its most vibrant features.
It’s settled now, as city officials voted Oct. 18 to proceed with the plan. City officials say the plan puts a pedestrian-friendly design at the forefront and will make the green a more inviting place for events such as the city’s annual Birthday Celebration.
Let’s not forget the added green space and “an interactive water feature.”
“The study leading to the redesign began in 2019 with the new downtown master plan which included input from hundreds of residents,” the city said in a rather odd news release featuring no quotes from either elected officials or non-elected bureaucrats.
“The process was expanded into 2021 with more public input that included three open houses and nine days of online options to participate,” the release added. “When combined with feedback through emails, social media, phone calls, and neighborhood, civic and business groups, this redesign has received more public input than any other single item in the city’s history.”
What makes a community great?
It wasn’t until 2018 that Smyrna leaders, who have shown a general disdain for the points of view of their taxpaying citizens, passed an ordinance allowing breweries in the community. But surely, the redevelopment of other entrenched communities throughout Metro Atlanta — such as Acworth, Duluth and Kennesaw — weighed heavily on the minds of city leaders as they advanced the proposal.
Now, the city plans to sell some city-owned land to Suwanee-based StillFire Brewing as part of the plan. The sale is one of the sticking points for opponents of the plan.
While the leaders in many — perhaps most — local governments believe they alone are responsible for the success and greatness of a community, a smaller number in the community might agree. In fact, it’s arguably been the government that has hindered the development’s growth — and perhaps even its “progress.”
While the downtown area is home to several restaurants work visiting — namely The Corner Taqueria, Zucca Bar and Pizzeria and the Smyrna Beer Market by The Stout Brothers — many of the region’s best restaurants sit outside of the city’s corporate limits.
Consider MTH Pizza or the acclaimed Muss and Turner’s, which are in the unincorporated Vinings community. Even the taxpayer boondoggle The Battery next to the Atlanta Braves’ new stadium isn’t in the city of Smyrna.
Has Smyrna fallen behind?
Some observers note the city was at the forefront of the downtown redevelopment trend three decades ago, but other communities have leapfrogged Smyrna.
Credit for the redesign three decades ago is often assigned to former Mayor Max Bacon, who spend more than 30 years in office. He has come out in opposition to the redevelopment.
“I just think there’s a better use for money than to spend it on something that’s working fine now,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted Bacon as saying in September. “We have a vibrant downtown. I was there today at lunch and couldn’t get a parking space. So the downtown’s doing very well.”