Sugar Hill takes first steps toward new downtown

SUGAR HILL -- Sugar Hill's planned downtown streetscape likely will be years in the making, but construction of its essential, first element might start within just weeks.

Reeves Contracting will soon begin work on the downtown district's regional retention-detention pond, the required structure to handle stormwater runoff. The 80,000-square-foot, roughly oval-shaped structure will sit in a natural depression across from City Hall, between West Broad Street and Nelson Brogdon Boulevard. The $1.3 million structure will neighbor a planned town green and three-story, 30,000-square-foot city hall on the northeast corner of West Broad and Temple Drive.

"This is the first cog in the wheel," said Sugar Hill City Manager Bob Hail. "It's the lynchpin to all we're doing."

Designed by Pond Engineering, the structure will have both retention and detention sides. The retention side will be an ever-full pond, while the detention side, doubling as a terraced amphitheater, will handle overflow of torrential rains like those last September.

The goal is to have the required water detention, but as an aesthetically pleasing feature, rather than a concrete, weed-filled reservoir common to commercial areas. The city hopes the amphitheater will be a draw, while functional if needed. Moreover, developers lured by the streetscape to come build shops, restaurants, etc., can more fully utilize their lots, not needing to make their own stormwater provisions.

"This will allow them to make fuller use of their land," Hail said of commercial and residential interests hopefully enticed to the half-mile downtown on West Broad between Nelson Brogdon and Peachtree Industrial Boulevard.

With two fountains and potentially colored lights within, the retention portion of the pond will be edged by stone walls and encircled by wide sidewalks, trees and shrubs. The detention portion's amphitheater seating will be of stone terracing, with yet undetermined hardscape shielding its stage.

Sugar Hill-based Reeves, whose resume includes involvement in the Georgia Aquarium and Georgia Dome, as well as the $150 million Bellsouth Midtown building and the $50 million Woodstock Baptist Church, is well known to Sugar Hill. The company currently is expanding E.E. Robinson Park by 18 acres off Level Creek Road to include a baseball stadium, additional parking and access from Peachtree Industrial.

Reeves said it potentially could involve several hundred people in construction of the pond and perhaps be completed in six to nine months. Its president, Eric Young, considers Sugar Hill's retention-detention concept unique, and therefore, challenging.

"Most people just create detention facilities, dry earthen places to hold water," Young said. "But this project creates the beauty of a pond or lake with an architectural feature (fountains) and is functional, too."

Sugar Hill's downtown has been nine years in the planning. But city officials like Community Relations Director Don Kelemen agree the arrival of earth-moving equipment will finally excite, and alas ignite, residents.

"This'll be our first major push for the new downtown," Kelemen said. "It'll definitely be encouraging for people to see."