“We wanted to create opportunities for people to be in and around the park seven days a week, not just during the weekend,” said Brian Wismer, Fayetteville’s downtown development director and economic development leader. “We’re thinking about the ways they do things in the big cities.”
The city’s move into “new urbanism” is a departure from the long-standing feel of the county, which has largely shunned apartments and required houses to have at least an acre of lawn in its unincorporated rural communities.
The investment is important to a county that is growing older faster than its peers in metro Atlanta. About 1 out of every 4 Fayette residents (28 percent) will be 65 or older in 2040 compared to about 1 in 5 for metro Atlanta overall, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.
It also could help the city step out of the shadow of its larger, better-known neighbor, Peachtree City. The two Fayette communities have long been rivals, former Peachtree Mayor Steve Brown said, with Peachtree City receiving the lion’s share of press for its tree-lined boulevards, lush trails and golf carts carrying residents everywhere from school to the supermarket to dinner.
“Everybody has focused on Peachtree City in recent years because it was newer, but Fayetteville is coming into its own,” said Brown, who also is a former Fayette County Commissioner. “I love the new concept for the new City Hall complex.”
There are concerns about Fayetteville’s plans. Some on Facebook have questioned the need to spend taxpayer money to build a new City Hall when the old Fayette Board of Education building the city has been using as its headquarters is more than adequate.
“Is this why they are wanting to raise taxes?” one resident wrote, while another simply asked, “Why?”
Other Fayette Countians, such as Brown, worry that the city's downtown won't be able to handle the traffic caused by almost 500 new apartments set to be constructed in the next couple of years.
“The volume is going to increase significantly over the next five to 10 years,” he said.
The future of Pinewood Studios also will be important to Fayetteville. The studio, which has been home to Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther,” “Venom” and the biggest movie of all time — “Avengers: Endgame” since 2014, is as responsible for the focus on Fayetteville as the city’s downtown’s revitalization.
But earlier this month, UK-based Pinewood Group announced it was selling its equity stake in the operation to River's Rock, a trust of the Truett Cathy family that managed the Fayetteville facility as partial owners. "Falcon and the Winter Soldier," an upcoming Marvel movie, is set to shoot at the studio this year and into 2020, according to published reports, but it is unclear if other films in the comic book giant's future will call Fayetteville home.
Glenn Gresham, owner of Fayetteville Square pub Gremlin Growlers, said the impact of Pinewood has been immeasurable. It turned attention to Fayetteville, complementing the synergy that was already underway to revitalize downtown Fayetteville and creating Pinewood Forest, a 265-acre mixed development that includes medical facilities, retail and a mixture of homes, including tiny 500-square-foot homes for those seeking a clutter-free lifestyle.
“The Pinewood Studios deal alone would be enough for most communities to throw a huge celebration,” he said. “But now you’ve kind of got a revived heart of the city with what’s going on downtown.”
Rob Parker, president of the Pinewood Forest development, said Fayetteville Mayor Ed Johnson and the City Council deserve much of the credit. They have been willing to try new things, such as amending zoning rules to allow houses smaller than 1,000 square feet and to allow them built as close together as 10 feet instead 30 feet.
Johnson and city staff attended a new urbanism convention earlier this year to learn more about urban planning and housing density.
“They have been very progressive and allowed us to create housing types that didn’t exist in the current zoning and codes,” Parker said.
As the city develops its City Hall project, at least two developers are bringing close to 500 apartments near the complex and the downtown square. One will offer traditional apartments while the other will put the multifamily units over retail stores.
After unveiling last week the $23 million price tag of the new City Hall and renderings of the park complex, which is projected to break ground in September and be completed at the end of 2020, City Councilman Scott Stacy said, “This is outstanding work. This is evidence of a very good team working together.”
Business leaders agree. Bianca Ramos plans to relocate Native Beauty Bar, a makeup, skin care and threading business she operates in Peachtree City to Pinewood Forest next year because she thinks Fayetteville has the kind of energy she is looking for. Ramos, 29, moved to Pinewood in March 2018 and likes that Fayetteville is trying to balance small town charm with big city creativity.
“I see the potential of what they can be and that is exciting,” she said.
Shellane Brown also likes the buzz she’s hearing about Fayetteville. She plans to open a second location of her bakery — Stone Mountain’s Apple Butter Bakery — in Pinewood next year.
She said she is convinced Fayetteville is the right spot for the expansion of her business because of the area’s demographics — Fayette County’s average annual income is around $85,000 — but also because of the desire of residents to expand beyond cookie-cutter chains.
Her biggest challenge will be managing two different stores on opposite ends of metro Atlanta.
“We are still trying to figure out the logistics, but we’ll make it work,” she said.