MARIETTA — Mayor Steve Tumlin has a few big ideas for the Square he believes could change the way people view the city.
They include removing the permanent left-turn lane in the center of each road, widening the sidewalks, installing parking meters and building a tourism office on the site of Councilman Philip Goldstein’s empty lot.
“I want to make Marietta more of a destination city than a cut-through city,” Tumlin said.
Complaints frequently arise from residents when the City Council tries to make changes to city roads that would ease traffic flow through the city, Tumlin said.
Residents don’t want commuters to drive through the historic districts of Marietta on their way to and from work, said Councilman Johnny Walker.
“The residents, they don’t like the traffic, but they just don’t want anything that’s going to help get traffic through Marietta because they’re worried more people will come through,” Walker said.
So Tumlin created a plan for the Square that caters to pedestrians.
“It will be a nice complement to an older way of life,” Tumlin said.
Tumlin estimates the plan will take three years to complete, and was set to present the details at the July 30 public works committee meeting.
When the mayor announced his plan at the council’s meeting in June, Councilman Stuart Fleming was enthusiastic about the suggestions.
“I think it’s very timely and appropriate as we think about enhancing our city,” Fleming said.
Although the mayor has not talked about the plan in depth with the council yet, he shared the key points with the Marietta Daily Journal.
Tumlin will propose widening the sidewalks that run next to the storefronts on the four sides of the Square. Tumlin said more people walk in the area than drive.
To incorporate a wider sidewalk, Tumlin said all four roads around the Square can be narrowed from four lanes to three.
“We’re becoming a more walkable city. That’s a high priority,” he said.
Tumlin said the permanent left-turn lane in the center of each road would be taken out, and the inside lane could be used as a lane for people who want to go straight or turn left.
There would still be parking on both sides of each road, he said.
The extra 10 to 15 feet of sidewalk space would be useful for the numerous events the city holds in Glover Park, Tumlin said, such as its concerts and Saturday farmers market.
Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly said she likes the mayor’s idea for wider sidewalks.
“Anything that gets people out and about on our Square is a good thing,” she said.
Tumlin said he thinks he might get backing from supporters of historic preservation because he isn’t making drastic changes — just adjusting something that is already a part of the Square.
Goldstein’s lot put to use
Tumlin said he’d like to begin more discussions with Goldstein about the possibility of putting the empty lot he owns on the Square to use for the city.
The fenced-off hole at 77 North Park Square, near the Strand Theatre, has been empty since Goldstein demolished the 1917-era, two-story brick and wood building known as the Cuthbertson building in 2010. Goldstein said he wanted to build a five-story mixed-use building in its place, reaching a height of 66 feet. But in 2011, the City Council passed an ordinance lowering height restrictions on the Square from 85 feet to 54 feet. Goldstein filed a lawsuit against the city over the ordinance and lost.
Tumlin said he thinks it’s an ideal spot to build a new location for the city’s tourism office. This isn’t the first time Tumlin has asked about the property, he said.
“There’s several of us that would like to rent that property,” Tumlin said.
Tumlin said Goldstein has been telling people for years that he has a tenant for the lot.
Goldstein did not respond to requests for comment.
Right now, the city’s Visitor’s Bureau is on Depot Street, off of West Park Square. Tumlin said the location is not easy to see and isn’t ideal because of the noise coming from trains passing on the nearby railroad tracks.
Tumlin said the council has long heard complaints about the port-a-potties that line the alleys around the Square, so the new tourism building could also house permanent restrooms accessible to the public.
Kelly said she supports Tumlin’s vision.
“Restrooms are something I’m a big advocate for our parks,” Kelly said. “So, I was really excited to see that that had been mentioned.”
Tumlin said he thinks thecity should begin regulating the parking along the Square with parking meters.
He said the free parking spaces on the Square are used more often by people going to the courthouse in the morning than by people visiting the shops and restaurants. The city and the county both own parking decks near the courthouse, but they charge $5 per car.
Tumlin said it’s not fair for those who want to eat breakfast or lunch in the Square to not have a place to park. So, he said if the parking spaces were metered, people going to the courthouse would use the decks they’re supposed to.
Tumlin said he wants to charge for the spaces on the Square from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., but leave the spaces free after that.
“We can have both worlds,” Tumlin said.
In 2009, Tom Browning, chairman of the Downtown Marietta Development Authority, proposed deeding over the historic Kennesaw House on Marietta Square to the city. In return, he requested the city turn over to the DMDA the on-street parking spaces. Browning wanted to charge drivers for those spaces and use the revenue to build a several-story parking deck off Mill Street. But that idea was killed by then-Mayor Bill Dunaway, who opposed allowing the city to give up the parking spaces.
Solution to overflowing dumpsters
Tumlin said he would like to see less trash piling up around dumpsters in the Square, but he doesn’t know the answer to that problem yet. The City Council has debated about what to do with downtown dumpsters for years.
“I go to other cities, and you don’t see trash on the streets there near as much,” Tumlin said.
A simple solution could be to have the trash picked up more often, he said. Councilman Johnny Walker brought up the idea of installing a new kind of dumpster to the council at its June meeting. The new dumpsters look like regular trash bins above ground but empty into larger dumpster-sized receptacles below the surface. But, Tumlin said they could be too expensive to be practical.
This idea, he said, is up for discussion.
Funding the project
The mayor said he knows he will get pushback from the council, but he’s also open to others’ ideas.
“If (the council members) think (the plan) is impossible, the things they want will be just as good or better,” he said.
Kelly said she’s excited to begin talking about the improvements.
“By the time we get it through (the public works committee) it may be something different, but it’s good that we talk about it,” Kelly said.
Tumlin said the city has not planned out details for the project, so he doesn’t have any cost estimates yet. He said revenue from the parking meters and loans from the Downtown Marietta Development Authority could be potential sources of funding for the project.
“You usually can fund it if it’s a worthwhile project,” Tumlin said. “We’ll tighten our belt one place and put it here instead.”