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Hogansville, GA Enters a New Era

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Hogansville, GA Enters a New Era

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It’s a pivotal season for the small city of Hogansville. Our local elections just took place — in the last three years ALL of the city council and the mayor have been unseated and replaced by (often) younger candidates.

When you add Tuesday’s results to what happened in 2019, when three incumbent council members lost their seats, then you see a complete transformation. No one, and we mean no one, in elected city leadership from the end of 2019 will be there as of 2022.

Hogansville has had more change than all of the other entities combined.

Hogansville appears to be on the cusp of growth, and when you couple that with moving into a new city hall and the Royal Theatre project, it feels like there’s a lot of positive on the horizon. That made Tuesday’s results somewhat surprising.

Change can be great, and sometimes it is needed. Maybe it was needed in Hogansville.

—Lagrange Daily News Op Ed

It’s a city on the move. Will Hogansville be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the development that the rest of the metro-Atlanta area is seeing? Navigating once quiet rural state highways the change in the last 18 months is striking: subdivisions, acres and acres of clear cut land, factories.

Growth isn’t bad.

Directionless growth without identity or the community in mind IS harmful.

Let’s take a step back and focus-in on our city. Hogansville.

Six years ago I wrote a “wish list” of what a small, stagnant and nearly abandoned small rural town could use. I like to revisit this list every year or so.

It’s interesting to see some the items in this article, many of them have come to pass — Karvelas Pizza moving downtown, high speed internet roll out (more on that later), more shops, more businesses, more residents.

I recently moved into a house right in the heart of downtown — from my porch I can see the city hall, three churches, the gym and the towering, majestic presence of the Royal Theater.

Hogansville midnight lights
Somewhat gothic view from the front porch.

Walking the sidewalks of our town this new year, another list began brewing in my mind.

What is it that will push our town forward? What can the new administration do to steward a chapter of growth and opportunity without selling out to the soulless developments that are sweeping through the surrounding counties, clear cutting the pine trees, Cul-de-Sac-ing with reckless abandon the former cow-pastures of middle Georgia (now there’s an original sentence).


Here it is — list V 2.0.

THE FUTURE OF HOGANSVILLE – THE ELEMENTS THAT WILL BRING GROWTH, PROSPERITY AND A CHAPTER OF NEW OPPORTUNITY

(***According to me)

Hogansville safety

URBAN DESIGN.

What makes living in a downtown attractive?

Multiple components — neighbors, small businesses, being able to walk to “third-spaces” (coffee shop, pub, playgrounds, outdoor amphitheater).  It’s that element, being able to walk to a neighbors house on a whim, or pass someone on the sidewalk that differentiates the Hogansville experience. It’s the serendipity of chance encounters without having to pre-plan every social event. It’s the energy of watching the changing light of the day, the shifting of the seasons; learning the routines of the town, the rhythmic patterns of the citizens and shop owners — the changing of the tides.

Density. Walkability. Commercial-district health.

Those are the elements that draw people to live downtown in a place like Hogansville. So with that being stated, are there ways we can improve this experience?

As you could probably guess, my answer would be a resounding YES.

Let’s break this down into street and sidewalk design.

First of all Main Street Hogansville is on a hill — and for whatever reason, the GADOT sees fit to direct an inordinate amount of large truck traffic down this inclined CITY STREET.

Keep in mind, there’s a school zone, there’s several crossings, there’s mothers pushing strollers — and then 18 inches away you have enormous semi-trucks and garbage trucks and log trucks barreling down this road, screeching air-breaks so as not to break the speed limit. (Not always successfully.)

We’ve had buildings hit by the trucks, crosswalk signs run over multiple times. It’s a danger to pedestrians, but also a pretty good deterrent for more people WALKING, why risk it?

Can the state DOT do something about this? Sure. BUT, and this will become a common refrain — there needs to be a plan and there needs to be a forward thinking solution.

Problems don’t solve themselves and on a state-level, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

The Main Street of the city belongs to the citizens of Hogansville, not logging companies and large shipping conglomerates (and why are they passing through our town in the first place? Bypassing a weigh-station?)

SAFETY.
What makes a city feel safe for pedestrians? Narrower streets. Speed tables and stop signs. And preferably, a reduction in large commercial traffic that has no reason to be barreling through a pedestrian-centric zone in the first place.

So first item on my list:

GADOT — we don’t want large and dangerous commercial vehicles endangering our school zone, our children,  and our visitors (who’d like to be able to cross the street without dodging raw sewage; sewage that spilled from a struggling dump truck. And yes, that’s a true story.)

Hogansville

Walkability Item Two — Increase commercial density.

This item will take teamwork and inspired design. Most of these large buildings on Main Street and the surrounding blocks are just too much of a footprint to be realistic ventures for a small brick and mortar — especially with our foot traffic.

The way to make traditional retail in a place like Hogansville work is to create micro-retail spots that can utilize shared point of sales employees.


Alongside this idea:
Commerce Street Pedestrian and Commercial Project.

Hogansville sidewalk

Imagine this being a tree lined street with micro-retail and dining lining either side of the wide sidewalks. This entire block could be closed to vehicle traffic for city events — it would become a place of community celebration that would bring a spark of life every few weeks to our city.

Hogansville bike friendly

TREES.

Our city has a fraught relationship with trees. That’s because there isn’t a long term cohesive vision for what we want our streets and downtown to become. If there’s one key ingredient that most urban designers agree is vital to a healthy walkable city, it’s canopy coverage. Trees. They provide shade, they provide barriers between pedestrians and speeding vehicles; they clean the air and help control rain fall.

Let’s come together to create a cohesive vision for our city’s streets and sidewalks that incorporates TREES. And let’s invest in them – trees require upkeep to maintain their health.

The best time to plant a tree is today.


PARKING.

The city has ample parking for all intents and purposes. There’s several large public lots available to downtown merchants. Eventually it will be important to create rules so the on street parking in front of shops is dynamic — that’s to say someone doesn’t take up valuable retail-front-on-street parking for an entire day, thus reducing the dynamic turnover needed for a thriving commercial zone.

That will come in the future.

Here’s the ingredients for good sidewalks in commercial zones:
Sidewalk dining. Deep awnings that create a sense of depth for store fronts. Barriers between the sidewalks and the traffic of the street (trees, metal planters, etc… Even a row of parallel parked cars.)

Most importantly, activated and consistent retail space. Nothing activates a downtown area quicker than a row of consecutive open and activated commercial spaces that are available for the public to explore. Each closed vacant building in a downtown stretch is known as a “missing tooth,” and each missing tooth reduces the likelihood of an area being viewed as walkable.

HOUSING.

Verticality is interesting in housing design. Instead of spreading out into large tracts of empty land, cloning cookie-cutter-vinyl-sided cubes, let’s look at housing models that add inventory to the central zone of the city. This means looking vertical. Narrow footprint houses, townhomes, adding apartments above existing commercial properties.

As we add QUALITY housing options with a vertical, dense and walkable ethos, our town will feel even more vivacious.

GOVERNMENT AND POLICY.

With the new administration, there is a need and demand for more transparency and accountability. For far too long, the general public has felt left out of crucial decisions — a lot of this comes from lack of clear communication channels.

Qualified Opportunity Zones.

A QOZ is an economically distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.  Localities qualify as QOZs if they have been nominated for that designation by a state, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. territory and that nomination has been certified by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury via his delegation of authority to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

IRS.gov

Hogansville is currently in a Rural Zone, which provides tax benefits for employers.

If the federal government opens the door for our city to also become a ‘QOZ’ that would result in an almost immediate impact: tangible investments in new and existing commercial properties. An Opportunity Zone incentivizes investors to invest in down-trodden areas by offering tax benefits in exchange for property improvements in these under-privileged zones.

The impact of such a program in Hogansville would be immediate. Buildings renovated, new commercial outlets constructed, new businesses. It’s easy to see the benefits!

PARKS.

We need to reevaluate our design of parks in this city. Parks are for families, for people with pets, for visitors to enjoy. There needs to be seating, shade, something to do. Let’s design our parks for the citizens living here to enjoy.

PARKS AND REC DEPARTMENT.

A common request from the citizens of Hogansville is:

“We need activities for the youth.”

A couple little league sports programs a year is not enough. Again, a cohesive (five-year) vision, and a drive to bring opportunities to the youth is key. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have a year-round basketball program, a skate park, soccer, football and baseball fields with lights (They sell lighting units that allows a citizen to pre-pay for an hour of facility lighting on a timer – so there wouldn’t need to be a staff member present).

The way we make our town grow in a healthy way is to encourage the young families to stay, and young families want actives for their children.

— > we’re part of a successful county, it’s time the Hogansville Parks system is shown some love. We need a plan, and a budget, and then the big ASK.

EATERIES.

Quality of life in Hogansville often comes back to the amenities. Parks, sidewalks, entertainment and dining options. How can we attract more eateries? It’s a risky proposal trying to open a restaurant here. But several times in our city’s history (Hogan’s Heroes, Karvelas Pizza Co), we’ve seen that when a restaurant does come here and puts out an exceptional product, it will succeed.

So how do we encourage this?

I think we roll out a program that creates runways for talented and entrepreneurial chefs and cooks. We put a “request for proposal” and the most promising leads we INVEST in as a community. We’ve got their back! We’ll help as investors to build out the restaurant. Can we help them on a city level with a flat rate utility package for their first year? We offer assistance with signage and marketing.

Rising tides lift all ships.

As each new eatery and watering hole and entertainment venue in our town succeeds, so the town succeeds.

TRAIL SYSTEM.

All through our region we keep seeing the success of multi-modal trail systems (bikes, walking, skating.) The city currently has a map for such a circuit spreading from the downtown area to Lake Jimmy Jackson and following Yellow Jacket Creek. From what I’ve read, such a system costs around $1M a mile to build.

So to put that in perspective, for $7M we could have an extensive trail system throughout our town that encourages exercise, connects neighborhoods and encourage even more growth. Seven million dollars is a lot, but surely there’s something in these federal infrastructure packages that could assist us getting STARTED with this.

While we’re at it, let’s build a pedestrian bridge over the train tracks and highway connecting the East and the West side.

The “Unity Bridge.”

ENTERTAINMENT.

Families in the area are hungry for accessible entertainment options. Drive Bar has shown this. The Royal Theater will be a groundbreaking addition to the area when and if it gets done. We need more, indoor basketball court? Bowling? Arcade? An Escape room? A large music venue?

Just like the eateries — let’s find energetic entrepreneurs and partner with them to inject energy into our downtown entertainment scene.

CORPORATE OFFICE.

This is one of the view repeat ideas from my first list. If, somehow, we could attract a corporate office to our downtown it would help bring the traffic needed to support some of these other models mentioned above.

Work From Home (Remote) is here to stay. Let’s lean into that. Let’s create the perfect environment for the work-remote wave of employees.

BUT WE NEED FIBER INTERNET EVERYWHERE!  Not randomly placed across town.

AT&T, it’s time to stop ignoring small town America.

Along this line of thinking — what about creating a non-profit office-setting for the under-employed. There’s plenty of remote jobs available that with a bit of training we could offer someone a $20 or $30/hour position.

It’s all about putting the pieces together – education, quality high band internet, and an accessible work space.

ZONING.

Traveling overseas, one element that brings life to a neighborhood is a diverse zoning concept. You’ll have a mostly residential block with a small cafe on the corner, or a fruit market, or a bodega. We have the opportunity to push a diverse zoning concept that will make amenities more thoroughly accessible to more people throughout the city.

GROCERY STORE.

What is our city’s approach to recruiting NECESSITIES such as a 2nd grocery store to town? Do we have a package in place to reduce the risk on potential grocers?

PIPE DREAM: COMMUTER RAIL PROJECT.

To hear old timers talk, back in the glory days of the railroad — one could catch a train from the Hogansville Depot and ride it to Atlanta for 75 cents. While the prices may change, the general idea still has some merit. Around the country there’s been successful cases of passenger-commuter lines co-existing with freight lines.

Again, in the latest infrastructure bill there’s language that allows and even encourages inter-city passenger rail sharing the tracks with the freight lines.

Imagine having access to a rail line that could take you from West Point to College Park, and to any of the depots in between.

To make this happen we would need a coalition of multiple cities, counties and eventually the backing of the State of Georgia.

It’s the kind of dream worth chasing.

Source: Front Porch Coffee

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