Business owners along Roswell’s popular Canton Street corridor say the iconic neighborhood is losing its old-world charm.

A recent parking study to address the shortage of spaces and a planned $65 million mixed-use project at the corner of Magnolia Street and Mimosa Boulevard have city officials predicting changes for the better.

But businesses on Canton Street say they are worried about the impact of more traffic along with a loss of retail stores that has left the area too heavily reliant on restaurants.

City officials took a significant step May 4 when the Downtown Development Authority chose True North Companies to develop West Alley, a $65 million boutique hotel and mixed-used project. Due to open in 2023, the development includes restaurants, retail, office and event space, and a parking deck with 400 spaces. It will be located at Magnolia Street and Mimosa Boulevard off Canton Street.

“I’m really excited about the future of downtown Roswell including Canton Street,” Councilwoman Christine Hall said. “I feel we’re on the verge of really going into the next era.”

To preserve the flavor of the past era, Roswell approved a master plan for its historic district last year, requiring developers to build structures with brick, lighting and other features that must be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Map: The busiest part of downtown Roswell is the stretch of Canton Street between Magnolia and Norcross streets. West Alley, a large mixed-use development, is planned for the corner of Magnolia Street and Mimosa Boulevard, behind Gate City Brewing.

The historic district stretches from Atlanta Street, also known as Ga. 9, at the intersections of Azalea Drive and Riverside Road just outside of Sandy Springs and continues to Woodstock Street. It encompasses old storefronts and homes most visitors seek out when they come to Roswell. West Alley will be inside the historic area and must meet those new requirements in their design.

But preserving the area’s character will require more.

Ann Jackson Gallery co-owner Valerie Jackson said she believes the lure of Canton Street is already gone. She moved her 50-year-old business over to Alpharetta Street because her customers grew frustrated with Canton Street’s heavy traffic and inconvenient parking, she said.

“Absolutely, I know it’s lost its charm,” Jackson said of Canton. “I watched it happen. It was the most treasured area to come to. It just seemed to have more love. It was more of a personal place. Everyone knew each other.”

Charm and challenges

For decades, Roswell’s downtown had its own unique charm that other cities across the U.S. wanted to replicate. That started to change in 2017 when cities such as Sandy Springs to the south and Alpharetta to north started outpacing Roswell with carefully planned development that turned their own downtowns into destinations.

Sandy Springs built a City Center that includes a performing arts center. Mid-size apartment buildings and a planned veterans memorial park and streetscape are intended to add walkability to the neighborhood. Alpharetta has turned its downtown into a mix of recreation, shopping and dining space where numerous new businesses opened in 2018.

Caption
May 8, 2021 Roswell - People walk along Canton street in downtown Roswell on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Roswell is working to manage future development of downtown to the Canton street neighborhood and preserving its historic look, but some business owners question whether changes will add to current problems. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

May 8, 2021 Roswell - People walk along Canton street in downtown Roswell on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Roswell is working to manage future development of downtown to the Canton street neighborhood and preserving its historic look, but some business owners question whether changes will add to current problems. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
May 8, 2021 Roswell - People walk along Canton street in downtown Roswell on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Roswell is working to manage future development of downtown to the Canton street neighborhood and preserving its historic look, but some business owners question whether changes will add to current problems. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Cherri Morris of Morris and Fellows has helped to develop downtown districts in Alpharetta, East Point, Norcross and Woodstock. She said downtown Roswell, incorporated in 1854, developed in laissez fare fashion before planned developments arrived.

“The Canton Street phenomenon just happened and existed before the city had a chance to do a master plan,” Morris said. “There are small properties (privately) owned by individual owners. And because I believe consumers want human scale so badly, and architecture, and a sense of place — that’s what drew owners to Canton Street.”

As the demand for commercial space increased, rent prices rose too. As some shops moved out, restaurants moved in and that has increased the need for parking. Parking has been a challenge in downtown Roswell for at least 20 years, business owners said.

Restaurant owners told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution they’d like to see more parking as well as a better mix of businesses on Canton Street. Additional parking and more retail shops or galleries would compliment the district, said Ryan Pernice who has free parking lots at his two restaurants Table & Main, and Osteria Mattone.

Engineering firm Stantec recently did a parking study of the Canton Street area from Woodstock Street to Hill Street at City Hall. Visitors to the historic Canton Street district said they regularly circle city blocks hunting for spaces.

Joel Mann, Stantec’s transportation planner, advised the city to require developers to build parking decks as part of their projects. Mann advised the city not to take on the task of building its own deck, but instead work with businesses that have underutilized lots to add 50 public parking spaces per year over the next decade.

Caption
May 8, 2021 Roswell - Jenna Aronowitz (stand right), owner, greets guests at 1920 Tavern Restaurant on Canton street in downtown Roswell on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Roswell is working to manage future development of downtown to the Canton street neighborhood and preserving its historic look, but some business owners question whether changes will add to current problems. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

May 8, 2021 Roswell - Jenna Aronowitz (stand right), owner, greets guests at 1920 Tavern Restaurant on Canton street in downtown Roswell on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Roswell is working to manage future development of downtown to the Canton street neighborhood and preserving its historic look, but some business owners question whether changes will add to current problems. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
May 8, 2021 Roswell - Jenna Aronowitz (stand right), owner, greets guests at 1920 Tavern Restaurant on Canton street in downtown Roswell on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Roswell is working to manage future development of downtown to the Canton street neighborhood and preserving its historic look, but some business owners question whether changes will add to current problems. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Jenna Aronowitz, co-owner of 1920 Tavern said that’s not good enough.

“When we first opened (six years ago) We were a good balance between restaurants and retail,” she said. “I hear it every day, ‘We used to love to walk around and go shopping and go have drinks.”

Now, Aronowitz said parking has become such a problem that she’s been paying $250 per month for her 36 employees to park in a nearby lot instead of walking from a free parking space further away. She estimates that businesses located in the busiest section of Canton Street between Magnolia and Norcross Streets have 300 employees working daily.

West Alley plans its own parking deck with 400 spaces — 100 of them free for anyone to use. But Aronowitz as well as Trent Bramblett who owns Ceviche Taqueria and Margarita Bar across the street are concerned special events at the hotel could cause parking to overflow onto Canton’s limited lots.

West Alley: ‘We hear loud and clear’

In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gill said True North realizes business owners are concerned and that parking is a problem. The developers intend to have enough parking onsite to accommodate hotel guests and event attendees, he said.

True North is also looking into alternative parking and transportation options for the public during construction, he said.

“One thing we hear loud and clear is the need for parking,” Gill said, adding that the goal is to maximize parking options.

“We’re thrilled to be part of this effort in Roswell’s historic district and are dedicated to engaging the community during the development process,” Gill said, regarding the overall project. “We understand the community wants and deserves an enjoyable experience when visiting downtown Roswell.”

West Alley construction is scheduled to start by the end of the year but several steps lie ahead for the developers. They must appear before the Planning Commission and City Council for zoning approval to build the mixed-use project, and then go before the Historic Preservation Commission for approval for permits. The four-month process includes a neighborhood meeting to hear from the community.

Caption
May 8, 2021 Roswell - Heavy traffic is shown along Canton Street in downtown Roswell on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Roswell is working to manage future development of the old downtown while preserving its historic look, but some business owners question whether changes will add to current problems. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

May 8, 2021 Roswell - Heavy traffic is shown along Canton Street in downtown Roswell on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Roswell is working to manage future development of the old downtown while preserving its historic look, but some business owners question whether changes will add to current problems. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
May 8, 2021 Roswell - Heavy traffic is shown along Canton Street in downtown Roswell on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Roswell is working to manage future development of the old downtown while preserving its historic look, but some business owners question whether changes will add to current problems. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Officials said they’re working to resolve parking frustrations and hope the historic district master plan will preserve the neighborhood’s natural character. Councilwoman Hall said the city wants to build a commercial base that brings in more retail.

Hall said an art gallery owner is considering opening in the area soon.

Hall, the former owner of a Papyrus stationary store, said she understands the strain of high rent prices.

“It’s been tough on retail. We as a government have to say, ‘What are we going to do?’” she said. “I think people think of only nightlife when they think of Canton Street. We want to attract daytime visitors that come in and shop and eat lunch at restaurants.”

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