Robust and thriving are the buzzwords Marietta Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin used to describe the State of the City in his annual address this week before a packed crowd at the Mansour Center.
To illustrate the city’s growth, Tumlin asked the audience to imagine all traffic lights flashing green at the Big Chicken intersection of Roswell and “the four lane,” as Route 41 is known by old timers.
“… Yes, that is chaotic. When you’re growing, it is chaotic. We’re growing and we’re improving,” Tumlin said, speaking of the city’s balance of residential and commercial development. “What we have is sustainable.”
Since the first plat for the city was laid out by James Anderson in 1833, Marietta has been in a state of transition, the mayor said, transforming from a railroad town to one of agriculture and then industry when the Bell Bomber plant arrived in the 1940s. Different than many suburban municipalities, Marietta is not a bedroom community. It’s its own central city. Doubters should simply peruse the city digest: 57 percent commercial, industrial and office and 40 percent residential. (The remaining three percent is agricultural, public and other.)
When City Manager Bill Bruton speaks to his counterparts in other cities, he says they find such a mix enviable. There are a couple reasons for this. For one, a city with a high residential base and a low commercial/industrial/office one doesn’t have the jobs to support its residents, causing them to commute out of town for work.
It’s also true that the tax burden falls heavier on residential property owners.
In his address, Tumlin trumpeted his signature project: the redevelopment of Franklin Gateway, saying he never could have dreamed how successful it turned out to be, while giving the credit to taxpayers for agreeing to vote for the $68 million bond issue. And indeed, it’s hard to argue that initiative has been anything other than a smashing success.
Since the bond was passed in 2013, Bruton reports, the Franklin Gateway corridor has seen a 79 percent increase in property values, skyrocketing from $151.6 million in 2013 to $271.4 million in 2018. And that doesn’t include the added values brought by Swedish furniture retailer Ikea and golf venue Drive Shack when they open. The redevelopment of the flea market the city purchased at the corner of Franklin Gateway and South Marietta Parkway will cause the city to see another bump in property values.
Equally positive, Bruton reports incidents of crime in that corridor have plummeted from 1,485 incidents in 2013 to 904 in 2017.
And while it’s mimicked the pace of a herd of turtles, the 2009 parks bond program has brought about a greening of the city. Tumlin said he is ready to cross the line and spike the ball on a job well done with that program.
Marietta has spent $23.7 million on parks bond funds to date improving 22 city parks, including three that are in progress, Elizabeth Porter Park, Kirby Park and Atherton Square.
Six of the 22 parks that have seen development or improvement dollars were new additions to the system: Tumlin Park at Hickory Hills, Custer Park Soccer Complex, the Custer Parks Sports and Fitness Center, the Franklin Gateway Sports Complex, Blackwell Park and Kirby Park, according to Parks Director Rich Buss.
No speech on Marietta would be complete without reference to Marietta Square, the city’s heart. Already a beloved gathering place, the city applied some spit and polish to make it even more accommodating.
Expanded sidewalks on the north and west sides of the Square and the removal and replacement of aged trees and their invasive roots have made the sidewalks larger and safer.
Bruton says feedback from the shopkeepers and their customers has been positive. The city is now moving to do the same improvements to the sidewalks and trees on the south side of the Square.
“Our living room is open for business,” the mayor said.
And what a living room it is. With its many restaurants, theaters and art galleries, museums, shops and festivals, Marietta Square attracts visitors far and wide.
From the city’s backbone of churches and civic clubs to WellStar Kennestone Hospital, which is preparing to open a new $126 million emergency department, to the 900 new homes in the pipeline from mixed use to single family, it’s a good time to live in the city.
“Hopefully I have painted a picture of a balanced community that is viable, that loves its fellow man,” Tumlin said.
Mr. Mayor, you are correct on both counts.