A proposal to turn an abandoned Morrow retail development into an eco-tourism destination — complete with zip lining and canopy experience — got a mixed reception at a recent town hall meeting.
Some residents of the Clayton County city said turning Olde Towne Morrow — which has sat fallow since 2010 — and nearby Barton Memorial Park into an aerial adventure haven could be the shot in the arm the south metro Atlanta community needs. Revenues are falling because of store closings and young people complain there is nothing to do in the town of about 7,200.
VIDEO: In previous Morrow news
Others, however, worry the project will bring unwanted traffic and noise and could turn into a boondoggle if the city — so desperate to correct the Olde Towne debacle — fails to do its due diligence.
“I feel like you’re going to put something down there,” said resident Gloria Broomfield on Thursday’s town hall. “But what’s it going to be? Is it going to be the safest for us? Is it going to be the best for us?”
Morrow city leaders are considering a pitch by New York-based Canopy Consulting Inc., to breath new life into the 16-acre Olde Towne by using it as a set up area for zip lining and aerial adventures in Barton.
Canopy would lease the property perhaps for free for the first three years before paying an undetermined price once the project is up and running, said Mayor Jeffrey DeTar and city manager Sylvia Redic. The city would benefit from visitor spending at stores and restaurants.
“Keep in mind, this is only an idea,” DeTar told the audience of about 50 people. He later said he would be OK if the deal fails if the parties can’t agree on terms.
“If we can’t put together a package that is the right thing for Morrow, then the answer is going to end up being no,” he said.
Olde Towne Morrow has sat empty since it officially closed eight years ago. It began in 2008 as a revitalization project for the community, which was beginning to see retail leave Southlake Mall, one of its revenue jewels. The city spent more than $10 million buying property, including moving old houses from around Georgia at a cost of $200,000 per home to the project to give it an “authentic” town square feel.
A year later, however, revelations of shoddy rehabilitation of the properties — including deliberate sprinkler code violations — forced Morrow to abandon the project. John Lampl, the driving force behind Olde Towne as the Morrow’s city manager, pleaded no contest last year to five counts of falsifying fire code reports, according to published reports. He was sentenced to six months probation and ordered to pay $12,000 in fines.
“It’s a beautiful park and my opinion is we don’t need to destroy something that pretty,” said Charles Whitehead, who lives near Barton Park and opposes the proposal. He worried that holes would be drilled into the trees for the zip lining company’s needs, such as for platforms.
Michelle Anderson, who supports the idea, said it could bring new blood to the city.
“If it’s visible from I-75, it will bring people here,” she said. “They are going to shop, they’re going to eat. And hopefully they will buy some homes if they like the area.”
Redic, who initiated the discussion with Canopy Consulting, said it could give zip lining fans an alternative to zip lining destinations such as Carroll County’s Banning Mills.
“If you want to blame someone for the idea, blame me because I’m proud of it,” she said.
Morrow Neighborhood Watch President Bonnie Crawford asked residents to consider it an option for youth growing up in the city or attending Clayton State University.
“We have a gold mine that we are not using,” Crawford said of Olde Towne. “Our college students have to go elsewhere for entertainment. That’s what I’d like for some of us to think about.”
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