City hears downtown park plans

LAWRENCEVILLE - Plans for turning eight blocks near the Historic Courthouse Square into a park and amphitheater were reviewed Wednesday by City Council members.

After the presentation by an engineering firm, the two councilmen who attended the special-called meeting at City Hall said they liked what they saw.

Councilman Bob Clark said the park bounded by Clayton, Jackson and Luckie streets would benefit business owners by bringing people downtown.

"This would strengthen and help support the retail and the historic courthouse," Clark said.

Councilman David Rodriguez said it could spur revitalization.

He would like to see attractive-looking shops and offices topped by condos spring up around the park's perimeter.

Much of the land is owned by the city, and selling the edges to private developers would help pay for the amphitheater, which is another amenity that would lure people downtown, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez proposed turning the dozens of acres into a "city center" in January. The city Police Department and several utility departments occupy a chunk of the land.

The concept plan shown by Precision Planning Inc. would move the police department to the far end of the city center.

The spot at the corner of Jackson Street and Ga. Highway 124 is now owned by the county Board of Education, which uses it for school bus parking. The city is working on swapping an adjacent tract it owns for the bus lot.

City officials intend to move the utility departments and their industrial equipment to another location, although the site has not been disclosed, presumably because the city does not own it yet.

The relocation of the city departments would free up the middle of the site for the amphitheater. How large the venue will be still must be determined by city officials, although some favor making it similar to Chastain Park in Atlanta where customers pay to see music concerts.

"It may be we want quaint as opposed to grand," Clark said.

A parking deck would also go on the edge of the park, and one or more plazas would be placed on its borders so passing motorists can easily see into it.

Three different plans viewed by council members showed different locations for the garage and the plazas.

The city has already been in touch with some of the private property owners whose land would form the edge of the city center and they have bought into the plan, said city Attorney Anthony Powell.

Rodriguez said those with land around the park will benefit because developers will want to build townhomes and other structures that dovetail with the city's revitalization efforts.

No land will be condemned for private development, Rodriguez said.

Precision will use the comments it gathered Wednesday to draw more concrete plans for the city center.

A former city landfill is buried beneath the site. In some places the fill is 18-feet deep. More tests must be done to determine its exact boundaries, the consultants said.

Of the two absent council members, one was out of town and the other was sick. Mayor Bobby Sikes was absent because of his leukemia treatment.

Special Purpose Local Options Sales tax funds will pay for the new police department. Some SPLOST revenue has also been earmarked for the amphitheater and other aspects of the park, said City Clerk Bob Baroni.