Located down the road from City Hall, the 120-unit Fort Hill housing project on Cole Street is the fifth and final public housing complex in the city left to be razed.
“Lot of good folks lived in that,” Mayor Steve Tumlin said. “Lot of memories in it, but it is the final nail in the end of an era.”
One resident was Taye Pugh, who lived there for more than a decade.
“When (Marietta Housing Authority executive director Ray Buday) called me, he told me they knocked down two of the buildings already, and I wanted to cry,” Pugh said.
Pugh, who is the Marietta Housing Authority board’s resident member, is earning a college degree through an online program and aims to become a middle school math and reading teacher.
Pugh, her husband, Carmichael, and their two daughters moved out of the two-bedroom Fort Hill unit last August and into a three-bedroom home in Walton Village on Roberta Drive, near Powder Springs Street.
Pugh said she was initially apprehensive about the move, because change is difficult for her.
But her new home has much more space, with a second bathroom, a dining room, a third bedroom and a laundry room.
To dry her clothes at Fort Hill, she hung them on a line.
“It worked, but sometimes it was frustrating because the clothes, you pull them back in, and they smelled, especially if animals were outside, so you had to start back over,” she said.
Her Fort Hill unit didn’t have a dining room, so the family ate on the sofa around a coffee table, she said.
“When we had our dining room table delivered and sitting at it for the first time and having a family dinner, it brought tears to my eyes,” she said. “It meant so much to us. That’s huge for us. We’ve never had that.”
Built in 1941 on a 10-acre tract, the Fort Hill complex lacked central air-conditioning, while its apartments had bedrooms as small as 8 by 10 feet.
In 2010, Marietta Housing Authority commissioned a study that showed that it would cost nearly $16 million to bring the property up to contemporary standards.
Residents began the process of moving out last June, with the last one leaving in October with rental vouchers that enabled them to move anywhere they chose, Buday said.
The demolition work, which is expected to take six to eight weeks at a cost of $250,000, will leave the site graded and seeded as green space while the Housing Authority’s board decides what to do with the property.
One of five
The authority demolished its first housing project, the 100-unit, 8-acre Johnny Walker Homes on Powder Springs Street, in 2004. Myrick Co. of Alpharetta proposed a $50 million mixed-use development on the site, but lost it in the recession.
The second project to be razed in 2006 was the 132-unit, 12-acre Clay Homes off Roswell Street near the Square. The MHA sold the property to Winter Properties for $8.5 million. Winter lost the property through a bank foreclosure in the recession, and it was bought by Walton Properties, which is in negotiations with the city over what to build there.
The third housing project razed in 2007 was the 10.5-acre, 125-unit Lyman Homes off Cherokee Street north of the Loop.
The property, now called Montgomery Park, is under contract with Traton Homes for $1.13 million. Buday said Traton plans to build 45 homes on the spot ranging in the $275,000 and higher price range.
“One thing we’re kind of waiting to see how things go with Montgomery Park, the Traton subdivision, and how things go with the old Meeting Park (Winter) property,” Buday said. “We don’t have any really hot prospects at this time, but, for example, if the Traton project just really sells out in no time at all, then maybe we can think about some small lot single-family homes.”
Mayor Steve Tumlin said the Traton development could decide the future in two ways.
“It could beget other residential, or it could say now that we’ve got a place for people to live, let’s build grocery stores and office buildings for people to have a place to work,” Tumlin said.
The mayor said some of his lawyer friends have said the Fort Hill site would make an excellent spot for a federal court building, while Councilman Anthony Coleman said he’d like to see affordable homes built there.
“It’s funny how people see it in different ways,” Tumlin said. “Would it be a natural extension of the downtown business community and have nice places there? The answer is yes.”
The Fort Hill site is adjacent to old Lemon Street School building, a building used as the city’s all-black school before integration.
The 5-acre Lemon Street School property is owned by the city school system, which uses the building for storage.
Tumlin said it would be ideal to combine that 5-acre tract with the 10-acre Fort Hill tract for a larger development.
“I think the first thing this community owes to that historical site would be to make sure we have a proper way to memorialize Lemon Street High School,” Tumlin said. “Fort Hill was an outstanding African-American community.”
An A-plus grade
The fourth housing project the authority razed in 2010 was the 125-unit, 13.5-acre Boston Homes on Howard Street, down the road from the Marietta School District’s central office. The authority has left that site as green space.
“We’re still waiting to see what we can do with that,” Buday said.
Taken altogether, the Housing Authority has removed blighted buildings from the city, and opened those spots up for future quality development, Tumlin said.
“The A-plus I give to the Housing Authority is they yield to the demands of (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), not only closed these things down, moved these people to good places, but they have left it in tip-top shape,” Tumlin said. “They’ve taken the obstacles out that might make a developer go to Canton or to Woodstock. They turned blighted buildings into nice green space.”