SMYRNA — Downtown had only two businesses in 1988, according to architect Jeff Floyd: a dry cleaner and an old shoe repair shop. Now, the city is among the fastest-growing in Georgia.
“I’ve gotten a lot of credit for being the one that did all this,” Mayor Max Bacon told a crowd at the Smyrna Community Center on Thursday. Then, with a mischievous smile: “And I am, really. I didn’t have much help at all.”
On behalf of the city and the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, Bacon presented four men with the 2019 Smyrna Citizen of the Year Award on Thursday: Floyd and his former partner Mike Sizemore, city attorney Scott Cochran and the city’s former bond underwriter, Gordon Mortin. It was the first time the chamber named four people Smyrna Citizen of the Year during the same year.
“They are the ones that started this thing, and they never got any credit,” Bacon said.
When it was Cochran’s turn to speak, he said he had a surprise for Bacon, who is not seeking reelection and whose decades-long tenure as mayor will soon come to an end.
After Cochran lauded Bacon for his decisive leadership, Bacon’s sister, Linda Keeney, presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the city and the chamber.
Bacon, wiping away tears, hugged his sister and longtime friend.
“It was really a special circumstance award,” said Chamber President Sharon Mason, to recognize the outgoing mayor’s “many contributions that have led to the significant growth and prosperity of Smyrna.”
“If decisions had been made based on the will of people at the time, they never would have happened,” Cochran said before Bacon was given his award. Opposition to the redevelopment of downtown was so fierce, he continued, that Bacon used to joke, “They bulldozed everything and left one tree just in case they needed to hang him from it.”
It all started with an oft-repeated story.
In the July 1988 issue of National Geographic, a story about Atlanta referenced the “old-money bastions of Ansley Park” and “redneck Smyrna.”
“Well by darn, that’s not going to be the case anymore,” Floyd recalled a fired-up Bacon saying at the time.
Bacon and the City Council pushed for the creation of a downtown people would want to visit. But the city needed the equivalent of a mall’s anchor store, something to lure people and private businesses.
Retail would not survive on Atlanta Road, a five-lane thoroughfare. So Floyd and Sizemore suggested the city move “main street” a block over and build a roundabout — Village Green Circle — a library and a community center.
“We talked about spreading parking throughout the downtown, so that there was not ‘adequate parking’ for every location, to force people to go from the library, to go over to the ice cream shop and to walk,” Floyd said. When a traffic engineer said the roundabout would slow traffic, they said that was “exactly the point.”
“We want people to stop and be here as a destination,” Floyd added.
Sizemore said the praise belongs to the city and the elected officials who made those hard choices.
“No architect can produce something better than their client can have them do,” he said.
When the pair first began their work on downtown Smyrna, people in the city said, “Why can’t we be more like Marietta?” Floyd recalled.
“And a couple of cycles ago,” he continued, “I heard a city councilman in Marietta running for election say, ‘Why can’t we be more like Smyrna?’”