After 36½ years in Decatur Lyn Menne, Assistant City Manager for Community & Economic Development, announced Friday she’s retiring effective Nov. 1.
Menne predates every city employee save for Deputy City Manager Hugh Saxon. She’s been critical—some believe the most critical leader—in Decatur becoming a township often discussed nationally in city planning and government circles.
She was born and raised in Beaufort, S.C. and attended Queens College in Charlotte, N.C., where she majored in American Studies and Historic Preservation. She moved to Atlanta Nov. 2, 1976, the day Jimmy Carter was elected president.
Her early jobs include five years with the Georgia State Historic Preservation and two years with Georgia Main Street Program at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
“In the 1960s nothing old was considered to have any value,” Menne recalled this week. “In Decatur they had plans to tear down everything, including the old courthouse and turn it into a suburb. [Nationwide] it was all about building cities around the automobile.
“But around the time I was getting out of college,” she added, “the preservation community was saying, ‘wait a minute, we can’t keep tearing things down and building more roads. There has to be a sense of place, things have got to be different.’ ”
When Menne was hired in May 1983, as Decatur’s first (and to date only) Director of the Downtown Development Authority, nearly half of the city’s historic courthouse square had already vanished.
Two blocks of structures on the west square had been razed and replaced by two high rises. In fact the city would build a total six “high rises”—all still standing—serving no other function except as office buildings. Meantime years of urban renewal wiped out buildings, homes and whole neighborhoods surrounding downtown, leaving mostly an ocean of parking lots.
But the city had already created its own Rosetta stone of sorts, the community-driven “Decatur Town Center Plan, 1982.” Menne was one of those charged with beginning to turn this 46-page document into tangible reality.
“Our job was to keep [the historic structures] that were still here and build back an urban center focusing on pedestrians and not solely the automobile,” Menne said. “We also wanted to bring back a mix of uses, like what the city had [in the first half of the 20th century]—not just office but residential, retail and office.”
When Menne started there was only one city festival, the 4th of July celebration that dates to 1976. Today there are at least two festivals of some type every month March through November that, in Menne’s words, “support the brand, market the city of Decatur and get people downtown.”
Whereas in the early 1980s there were fewer than 10 restaurants citywide, now there are over a hundred. Almost no one lived downtown back then while today nearly a third of Decatur’s homes are downtown.
Two community-driven strategic plans, successors to the original 1982 document, have been completed with a third 10-year plan beginning this fall. There have also been two community transportation plans leading to the narrowing of roads, adding bike lanes, widening sidewalks along with studying the negative health impact of automobiles.
Menne has not only been DDA director the whole time, she’s also helped create the city’s arts alliance, business association and Decatur Education Foundation.
But she says now most of the “larger projects” under her tutelage have been completed and it’s time for a younger generation of staffers to work with new and younger business owners. She turned 65 last March, has a nine-month old grandchild and her close colleague, former city manager Peggy Merriss—they were hired within months of each other—retired last December.
“I hope,” Menne said, “Decatur continues to be a progressive community that encourages people to interact, to communicate and listen to each other’s viewpoint.”
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