In State of the City address, Smyrna mayor talks redevelopment

Jul. 28—SMYRNA — With its 150th birthday celebration around the corner, Smyrna is thriving, according to Mayor Derek Norton.

Norton provided an update on downtown redevelopment and South Cobb Drive construction, singled out Ward 7 and offered other updates about the Jonquil City at his annual State of the City address inside the Community Center Wednesday evening.

Revamping Smyrna'S downtown

Much of Norton's speech focused on efforts by city officials to redevelop the downtown.

"We're replacing the roundabout in front of the library with a pedestrian-friendly, interactive green space that connects the Veterans Memorial green, the duck pond and the open area between the Community Center and Atlanta Road."

Norton praised the work of the Downtown Redesign Details Task Force, chaired by Ward 3 Councilman Travis Lindley, in planning the changes to the downtown.

"They've done excellent work," Norton said. "The new space will have a water feature, shade structures, a plaza, benches, a new stage space in front of the community center ... 30-plus new trees and local art."

Norton also mentioned the new city park that will fill the south side of the open space between the Community Center and Atlanta Road, while StillFire Brewing will open a location on the north side of the space.

Construction on the green space and park will begin in the winter and is scheduled to be completed by spring 2023.

The downtown redevelopment push came out of calls he heard on the campaign trail in 2019, where residents asked for new retailers and restaurants.

"The only thing that will drive new retail and restaurants to set up shop in our downtown is to create a destination that will attract those people, and I believe StillFire and the new green space and park will bring those people here," he said.

Hugh Ragan, a Smyrna councilman in the 1980s and a retired Georgia state senator who lives with his wife, Jane, in the Cooper Lake Hills neighborhood, enjoyed hearing about the plans.

"I was surprised as much as anything about the downtown development," Ragan said. "We've read about that, but I learned a whole lot more about it tonight."

South Cobb Drive construction

The downtown revitalization projects are all voter-endorsed Smyrna special-purpose local-option sales tax projects, and Norton spoke at length about another: the redesign of South Cobb Drive between Concord Road and Windy Hill Drive.

"This is an area that's been neglected for a long time, and I'm proud of this council for putting attention on rejuvenating this corridor that sits just to the west of our downtown," he said.

Norton said the project added travel lanes to the road, including local access lanes, landscaped medians, more traffic signals, and increased bike and pedestrian access.

"We think this will attract significant development interest and hope that the end result is a vibrant corridor with additional housing, retail, and dining options," he said.

A long term project, Norton explained, the South Cobb Drive revamp has been in the works for nearly two years and is likely to cost roughly $30 million. Norton stressed the importance of getting additional funding to complement $13.3 million in special sales tax funds budgeted for the project in 2020.

"With all the federal and state infrastructure dollars available currently, this is the right time to be focusing on this project," Norton said. "I'm proud to report that to date, $120,000 in initial federal funding has been committed, which is a great signal of additional funding in the near future."

The project is estimated to take three or four years to complete "from the time the shovels go into the ground."

Holistic governance

The mayor said it's crucial to give greater attention to all parts of the city, not just the downtown.

"I think that's been lacking for many years, particularly with South Cobb Drive that I mentioned, but also the south and west portions of our city, especially in Ward 7," Norton said.

Ward 7, represented by Lewis Wheaton on the City Council, is next to what could become the city of Mableton, should voters decide to incorporate the area in a November cityhood referendum.

"Dr. Wheaton's ward ... was annexed years ago without much thought about what city facilities and amenities would go there," Norton said. "In fact the only city building in Ward 7 is the fire station."

Norton said the city will build a splash pad, a recreation area for water play, in Riverline Park starting in the fall. He also mentioned the study for a nature center on 14 acres of city land in Ward 7 the council approved at its July meeting.

Wheaton expressed excitement about the plans for development in his ward.

"I think that it's really a testament to the commitment that I was wanting to take when I was sworn in, but also the partnership with the mayor and the rest of the council to really rejuvenate, bring life to the city, is so important," Wheaton said.

Wheaton believes his ward has been neglected in the past, but thinks that has changed with this council.

"I'm just happy to know that the work that we're putting in is really coming together for the ward," Wheaton said.

A packed gym

Norton was first elected in 2019. What would have been his first State of the City speech in 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic.

Wednesday's address attracted a crowd that filled the Community Center's gym.

Cobb Chamber of Commerce CEO Sharon Mason introduced Norton, and an array of Smyrna elected officials, city employees, business leaders and residents came to hear the mayor's annual update.

"We wanted to see what the mayor had to say about our city and the future of our city," Ragan, the former Smyrna councilman, said.

Mark Jacobson, president of Cumberland Diamond Exchange in Smyrna, praised the work Norton has done as mayor.

"Needless to say, Derek, we knew prior to his election, and he has done an outstanding job, kind of given a little new life into the communities," Jacobson said. "The citizens of Smyrna should be very happy with their leadership right now."