That’s not quite the case with the Marietta Welcome Center, which has been housed since the mid-1980s in the former Western & Atlantic Railroad train depot a block off the Square. The vintage-1898 depot is one of the most historic and picturesque buildings in town, with its distinctive gabled roof, but it’s a bit off the beaten path and is not visible from Marietta Square — thus defeating much of its purpose. That makes the fact that it is visited by tens of thousands of people from all over the country every year even more remarkable.
New City Councilman Johnny Walker proposed at last weekend’s council retreat that the center be moved to a site on North Park Square facing the Square. He has in mind the lot owned by Councilman/downtown property czar Philip Goldstein, the lot on which the Cuthbertson Building stood until torn down by Goldstein in hopes of replacing it with a taller building. But the City refused to allow him to build, saying his plan would violate the height limit on downtown buildings. Goldstein sued all the way to the state Supreme Court, but lost.
The barren lot is now shielded somewhat by a wooden fence, but is a severe under-use of a prime piece of downtown property. Goldstein has announced no further plans for its use, and it likely could continue to sit vacant for years.
Goldstein says he is OK with moving the Center, but says he prefers to see an active business on his lot facing the Square.
A Welcome Center on the Square would not just be more visible, but would include another badly needed amenity — public restrooms. The current Center includes restrooms, but they don’t do much good for visitors at events on the Square who don’t know where the Center is.
Mayor Steve Tumlin is on board with exploring the possibility of relocating the center.
“It won’t be easy, but it’s doable,” Tumlin said.
Walker thinks the old state-owned depot that now houses the Center would be a prime spot for a restaurant. But that might be wishful thinking. Part of the depot building did in fact house a restaurant at one point decades ago, but it was not successful. And a succession of restaurants once occupied the ground floor of the old Kennesaw House building next door, but none of them found long-term success either. The combination of low visibility and the noise, dust and distraction of 50-some freight trains a day chugging by just steps away make those buildings challenging locales.
As for building, buying or leasing a Welcome Center on the Square, numerous questions arise, such as who would pay for it? The state? The city? A private entity? And is it wise to take a prime, tax-producing location on the Square off the tax rolls by using it for a Center?
It’s too early to endorse or shoot down such a proposal. Rather, it’s an idea in its earliest stages, but one worth at least considering.