The little town that sprang up around the railroad line may not be known for its downtown — yet.
Kennesaw leaders are moving forward with a plan to rejuvenate the city’s downtown to provide residents with a central destination for shopping, dining and living.
Mayor Mark Mathews said his city has been compared over the years with nearby Acworth and Marietta, which boast the traditional concept of Southern cities with an identifiable downtown core.
“Kennesaw was never really developed as a main street or square-type community, it was always just a little small town along the rail line,” Mathews said. “So we never had the infrastructure like Acworth with a main street divided by the railroad with a lot of buildings already in place.”
The percentage of retail stores downtown will potentially more than double with a couple of projects coming down the pipeline, City Manager Steve Kennedy said.
In 2008, when Mathews came on as mayor, he decided to lead the charge with a vision for redeveloping downtown Kennesaw. Unfortunately, the economy wasn’t on his side.
“We were making progress in 2008 and had several projects teed up and then the world drove off a cliff and we’ve been in a — at least from a real estate standpoint — severe recession for four years,” Community Development Director Bob Fox said. “That tide has started turning over the last year and people are starting to come back into the market, starting to get active again (and) are starting to have the ability to get financing to do projects.
“Some of the projects that we had in the works in 2008 — those are the ones that are coming back first now.”
$30M development on the way
Three projects are on the front burner.
One is a $30 million mixed-use development at the corner of Watts Drive and Main Street by South City Partners, the same developers who designed the 24-acre West 22 student housing development on Cherokee Street, which will open to students in August and also include retail space.
Mark Randall, a partner with the Atlanta-based development firm, said the new development on Main Street will include a 250-unit apartment complex with 11,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space. He anticipates construction will begin in the latter part of this year.
Fox said the development area, adjacent to Camp McDonald Park, is ideal for where city leaders want downtown growth to be focused.
“It lines up right with the plaza area and through the pedestrian underpass into the (Depot) Park area,” Fox said. “So you’re creating that walkability and that connectivity.”
Behind the development, the city will construct a five-story public parking deck paid for by the city’s Court Service Improvement Fund.
The fund generates about $380,000 annually, with about $180,000 per year used to pay off debts from the City Hall expansion and a portion of the remainder will be allocated each year to fund the parking deck debt. The fund now contains about $1.1 million.
Changing the landscape of Dallas St.
Another development could potentially change the entire landscape of Dallas Street, where the city is hoping to redesign the approximately 7.5 acres of land to become another mixed-use development of about 12,000 square feet of retail and 250 residential units.
Fox said the project, now being designed, could involve the abandonment of Lewis Street to connect the whole project.
Just over the railroad tracks, Alabama-based Vantage Development is looking to build a 74-unit senior housing development on the corner of South Main and Sardis streets.
Fox said its completion is dependent on receiving tax credits from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The application is planned to be submitted in June, and the DCA will determine whether they will award the tax credits by the end of the year.
“These are mobile people,” Fox said of seniors living in the community. “They want to be able to get out and walk to the park, the museum, the library, a restaurant, shopping, whatever it may be,” Fox said.
With these three large-scale developments and long-term plans to renovate the Depot area, Fox said Kennesaw’s downtown will soon become a major draw.
“We’re never going to compete with Cobb Parkway or Barrett Parkway and that’s not what we’re trying to do,” Fox said. “We’re going to be more destination-oriented, one-off boutique-type of retail space.”