Busy – Decatur’s decade of building draws to a close

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt June 18, 2014
A shot of the Decatur Square on April 1, 2014. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

A shot of the Decatur Square on April 1, 2014. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

Assistant City Manager Hugh Saxon rattled off a list of city building projects during Monday’s Decatur City Commission meeting.

City Hall?  Done.

Downtown MARTA station renovations? Also done.

Saxon said in total the city has invested about $90 million in brick and mortar projects in the last 10 years, jobs that transformed the city’s downtown. The city borrowed heavily to pay for it all, but Saxon said the only remaining projects involve infrastructure improvements and finishing up the Beacon Municipal Center, which dwarfed the other projects with its $38 million budget. City Schools of Decatur recently held its first board meeting at the facility.

“We developed a goal to rebuild or renovate all of the major public facilities by the end of 2014,” Saxon told commissioners.

There are a handful of smaller projects on the horizon.

Bids for the much-delayed Oakhurst Streetscape project, which has a $2.5 million budget, are due by Aug. 5. That project is receiving federal funding.

There’s also Phase V of the city’s downtown streetscape project, with a $2.25 million budget. The project description says, “The Phase V Downtown Decatur Streetscape project area includes the south side of East Trinity Place from North McDonough Street to Church Street, both sides of East Trinity Place from Church Street to just past the Fire Station, and Church Street from East Trinity Place south to East Howard Avenue. The purpose of the project is to improve accessibility and safety for pedestrians and to reduce conflicts between pedestrians and motorists.” That project also is getting federal money.

It’s currently awaiting a notice of bid authorization, according to Saxon.

Projects that are in-design include a $1.9 million for improving the railroad crossing at Candler and McDonough Streets, $2.12 million for North McDonough Streetscape improvements and a $4.2 million pedestrian safety and bike lanes project on Clairemont-Commerce and Church Street.

There are also several projects that Saxon says the city needs, like storm drain improvements, renovating McKoy Park and adding features to the Decatur Cemetery. But even if you totaled up the projects that are in the works and still just a pipe dream, they wouldn’t come anywhere close to what the city has spent over the last 10 years.

Saxon said some of the improvements were long overdue. He recalled how hot the city commission’s meeting room used to get in the summers and how the building would shake when there was a MARTA bus at the corner.

Commissioner Scott Drake said when the city’s building boom began, many of its buildings looked much like they did in the 70’s when he was growing up. Drake is the son of former Decatur Mayor Walt Drake.

He said city hall was “an interesting building” back then.

“They said, ‘It’s time to put some momentum behind this’ and they did start looking at every facility,” Drake said.

Commissioner Fred Boykin said the building projects knocked out every major improvement the city wanted.

“I’m impressed that over a decade we’ve been able to refurbish and redo all these buildings and that pretty much should take care of things for the long term,” Boykin said.

He added that residents are getting a value for their tax dollar, and the buildings should last at least 50 years.

“We gotta pay for it,” Boykin said. “I know some folks they’re upset that we’ve taken out long term debt to pay off all these buildings, but on the other hand, future users of the building will be help to pay it off.”



About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

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  • long-time resident and tax pay

    With all our city-wide planning efforts including the comprehensive plan, numerous round-tables and task forces, was rebuilding all the municipal buildings identified by Decatur’s citizens as the top priority for use of their tax money? I doubt it. I also doubt that they are done.

  • Chris Billingsley

    Thanks LTR&TP. For those of us nearing the end of our stay in Decatur (please note that when I leave, it will be a very, VERY sad day), comments about how the city invested $90 million in “transforming the downtown” brings a slight smile. Not a happy smile mind you but a sad one of resignation. The real burden of paying off this huge debt falls on the back of younger homeowners. They are the ones who have been duped by real estate agents and the chi chi elites into believing that the “gravy years/boom times/ roaring prosperity” will continue forever. What I fear is that at the first real sign that the good times are over, and the hard decisions about paying the costs of improvements is realized, young people will flee somewhere else. And the glitzy bars and restaurants that the city has bet so much on will follow. For those of us that have been around for awhile and experienced the ups and down of Decatur prosperity, we know this is coming. But for the poor fools that have mortgaged so much of their future hoping that our government makes the right decisions, I feel it will be a hard fall.
    Oh, one more thing. I really loved the comment about the temperature and MARTA buses grabbing the attention of the commissioners. Too bad it wasn’t the taxpayers.

  • DecaturDad

    The scope and scale of the building has been shocking, especially the rebuild of the Beacon Hill complex. We dumped an enormous amount of money into that project and I hope it was necessary, but it sure looks like we paid for the gold-plated version of that project. Now that it’s done renovating all its buildings, I hope the city can change its focus to things that make the city more liveable for its people–like parks. Whenever I go to the Atlanta parks, I’m always impressed with how much nicer they are than ours. Considering how many families move here for the schools, we should try to make sure we have parks within walking distance for all our neighborhoods.
    Seeing that picture of MARTA square reminds me of my pet peeve of that project–it’s a hot slab of concrete with no shade in the summer. We need a splash pad for kids there to cool everyone off.

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