Powder Springs rolls out redevelopment plan to revitalize downtown

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

One of Cobb County’s smallest cities is drawing a redevelopment plan that would transform its downtown from a low-key thoroughfare into a bustling hub of activity.

City officials say the plan could draw more people to downtown Powder Springs by welcoming developers to build on vacant or underutilized properties. The city plans to buy property and enter into a public-private partnership where developers would build residences, retail space and an office building.

Powder Springs would also add public parking, improve existing parking infrastructure and create a more walkable atmosphere, a plan that could cost about $2.8 million.

City Manager Pam Conner said proposals to recruit developers with interest in downtown date back several years to when Powder Springs adopted initiatives that encouraged mixed-use redevelopment, improving street networks and enhancing trail and bike networks throughout downtown.

Those efforts were successful, Conner said. A new 55-townhome development is underway in downtown and a new bicycle parking and air pump station has been installed adjacent to the new Thurman Springs Park. A brick-lined crosswalk with pedestrian warning lights was also installed across Marietta Street. Two additional businesses are expected to open this year: HER Fitness, a fitness and wellness center for women, and Sweet Southern, a coffee and dessert shop.

“It goes back to being the heart of the community,” Conner said of the desire to breathe new life into downtown.

But not everyone is onboard with the city’s vision, with some Powder Springs leaders calling for more transparency in the future development plan.

Powder Springs hopes to sell developers the land where City Hall and Community Development are located, both of which are in separate buildings on Marietta Street at Pineview Drive. Powder Springs would move its government functions into an existing building on the site of Municipal Court at Pineview Drive and Jackson Street Extension. A new, larger City Hall building would be constructed on the site.

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

A town hall meeting was held in late December where city consultants TSW Design showcased some of the potential redevelopment ideas. Among the proposals: Two commercial buildings totaling 15,600 square feet and 36 townhouses in six buildings could be constructed on the site that currently houses City Hall and Community Development.

No residents will be displaced by the plan, and any new construction or renovation within the area would have to follow historic preservation guidelines adopted by the city, Powder Springs has said.

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Conner said developers have expressed interest in developing on the City Hall and Community Development sites because of their location: both face Marietta Street, the main downtown thoroughfare.

Conner said the city has been asking itself, “Do we need to have three publicly-owned properties?”

Powder Springs’ formally kicked off the project in November when City Council members voted to establish an Urban Redevelopment Area, which includes the downtown core, City Hall, Thurman Springs Park, Powder Springs Park and connections to the Silver Comet Trail. It does not include the part of Marietta Street where older homes line the road.

The Council also approved a partnership with the Downtown Development Authority, which allows the authority to acquire properties targeted by the city using up to $10.3 million in revenue bonds that would be backed by projected tax revenue from already-approved new home construction and current debt-service payments.

Ideally, the development authority would sell or lease the property to private developers, who would be responsible for submitting their project plans to the city. Some of the incentives the city might offer developers include waiving site and structural review fees or putting a cap on building permit fees, Conner said.

“The use and extent of incentives, including any tax abatement, would depend in part on the capital investment made in the downtown and the consistency of a proposal to the city’s redevelopment plans,” she said.

Conner said public reaction to the plan has been mixed. Some people would “rather go to Marietta or Smyrna for entertainment or go to Hiram to eat,” she said. Another group of people have been participating in planning studies in the city over the last 20 years and want to see more attractions in downtown Powder Springs.

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

“We want to protect the small town charm and character, but it’s not mutually exclusive to managed growth in the downtown," she said.

According to 2019 population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, Powder Springs is the fifth-largest city in Cobb with about 15,758 people. The city of Austell is the least populated city in Cobb, with about 7,170 people.

Conner said the city will hold public input sessions to get community feedback.

City Councilwomen Patricia Wisdom and Nancy Farmer both voted against establishing the Urban Redevelopment Area on Nov. 2. They say there was a lack of public input before the city took action. Wisdom said the city did not give residents an opportunity to review the proposal establishing the area in advance.

“I feel our citizens should have an opportunity to get a clear idea of what you are thinking and planning as the Council,” Wisdom said. “We have to give the citizens an opportunity buy into this.”

Farmer also said the city needs to be more transparent about what it’s doing, particularly since these ideas will involve the city spending money.

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

One downtown Powder Springs business owner is looking forward to more downtown foot traffic. Jake Hardy, who in September opened Rooted Trading Company at the site of the 160-year-old Butner-McTyre General Store on Marietta Street, said the proposed redevelopment plan is a great opportunity for the city to generate more activity downtown.

However, he said there are some who worry that any new development could diminish Powder Springs’ small-town charm.

Hardy, whose store offers locally sourced and handmade goods along with bike and kayak rentals, said new redevelopment might bring in more residents who could be the key in helping downtown businesses stay afloat.

“It’s been extremely sleepy for decades, so there’s a lot of great things that can happen here to bring opportunities for more people to live in the city and do business in the city,” he said.