East Roswell residents turn out for change

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I went to a public meeting in East Roswell with city officials discussing the state of their community and what could be done to reverse what they see as receding quality of life on the east side of Ga. 400 along the Holcomb Bridge corridor.

A crowd of around 240 East Roswell residents packed the East Roswell Park’s meeting room looking for answers to what was apparent to everyone in attendance: The decline of the Holcomb Bridge corridor is not only visibly apparent but it is getting worse.

Empty storefronts have been an ongoing problem for years, but with the loss of the Target store across from Horseshoe Bend community and the Kohls at the Centennial Kroger shopping center, the desertions are trending upward.

One resident rose to say he and neighbors had received letters from Kroger feeling them out whether they would shop at other Kroger stores should the Kroger most convenient to them were no longer available.

It was clear to him that Centennial Kroger’s days could be numbered as well. The Office Depot is rumored to be considering leaving.

People are clearly alarmed because the flight of business in the area is having an effect on the quality of life for residents, and if the trend continues – property values as well.

Roswell Development of Community Development told residents when anchor tenants leave a shopping center, the businesses in the entire center are hurt.

“It is called an anchor for a reason. They bring traffic into the center and the other stores benefit from it,” Alice Wakefield said.

Mayor Jere Wood organized the meeting and brought in the people working to improve the city’s economic viability: Roswell Inc Executive Director Steve Stroud, who heads the city’s public-private partnership for economic development.

Also present were the city’s Downtown Development Authority’s Chairman Randy Schultz and Dave Schmit. The DDA is an authority chartered by the state but separate from the city government. It also acts as an economic development entity for the city specializing in blighted areas needing the most help.

Schultz told the residents he has no “magic bullet.” What he did say was economic redevelopment should be an ongoing part of the city’s business.

He’s right, of course. You don’t stop in the middle of a race because you are ahead. Soon you are no longer ahead but behind. And it is a struggle playing catch-up.

But the message to the audience was clear. East Roswell has a problem and it is not going away.

What East Roswell does not have is a plan. This meeting is a first step in that direction.

What was different about the meeting was the reaction of the residents. Always in the past, any talk about bringing up new development of any kind in East Roswell and the residents began issuing pitchforks and torches.

Not this time. People were listening carefully and asking the kinds of questions that showed they knew there was a problem. And it showed they were searching for solutions.

They listened as the experts and the neighbors thrashed out some ideas. They tried them on to see how they fit. What I did not see – as I have in the past – was a bunch of closed minds on the subject of redevelopment.

Any new development was seen as bad and only a recipe for more traffic congestion. The reality is the cars are coming anyway. The question is how do we make it work for us and not against us?

The realization has sunk in that change cannot be stopped. It is inevitable. This is ground zero for a wave that will continue to fill out North Fulton, South Forsyth and West Gwinnett. Can we remain what we were 20 years ago when we first came? No.

The good news is we are not Flint, Mich., or Allentown, Pa. We have options to be the best we can be.

What this meeting showed was: (A.) We need a plan. And (B.) There are good options available.

Nothing is going to keep Holcomb Bridge Road from remaining one of the few major east-west arteries for Cobb, North Fulton and Gwinnett. For once, there were no cries to simply raise the drawbridge. That option doesn’t exist.

Now it is up to the city to provide the leadership to create workable solutions with the residents.


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