Brief History Of The Downtown Growth And Plans For The Future

At a recent meeting of the Mayor and City Council of LaGrange, Mayor Jim Thornton handed out a set of notes from Speer Burdette, the President of the Callaway Foundation. These notes contained a list of various improvements and enhancements that the downtown area has undergone since 2004. Looking through these notes and seeing all of the changes that the city, specifically the downtown area, has gone through is an incredible and humbling experience. Our town, which is currently going through incredible amounts of change, has been consistently improving for so many years now and to look back over the progress we have all made is important, reminding us all of whom we are and where we have come.

It all began with the partnership of the Callaway Foundation and the Downtown LaGrange Development Authority (DLDA). The first maneuver between the two was the renovation of the former Belk Gallant building, bringing in a health club, restaurant, and gift shop downtown. The Callaway Foundation gifted the building to the DLDA. After this came the beginning of the promenade from Bull Street to Main Street, providing a walk-ability and new life to that area. The Promenade was then continued from Main Street to the Art Museum. All of these were gifts to the DLDA.

The next big step came when the old Kress/Seymour’s building was renovated and turned into the Del’avant event center with loft apartments which was gifted to the DLDA. Additionally, the Brick House restaurant was also brought in to the area. This was major step as the Brick House has become one of the most popular restaurants in town and Del’avant has become home to many of the local meeting and events of great importance for our community.

The next big property acquisition came in the form of a property on Main Street. A joint project between the City and the DLDA, this would eventually become the home of Carmike Cinemas. The importance of this move cannot be stated enough. Carmike, arguably the biggest cinema chain in the world, has provided a destination for the entire community and has become a central piece of entertainment for all of downtown and beyond.

The next move was the swap of a Main Street property to the City for property that would eventually became Flagpole Park and the former fire station site. After this, the parking deck, a joint project of the Callaway Foundation and the City (gifted to the City), a venture that provided 300 new parking places for the downtown area. This gave the area more accessibility and ease for those looking to spend an afternoon or an evening enjoying all that downtown has to offer.

The next major project to take place was seven years in the making. The old City Pool/Boyd Park was renovated and repurposed and turned into the Sweetland Amphitheater. This outing was put together between the City, the County, the Callaway Foundation, and the DLDA in the perfect mixture of public and private funds and relations. The new stadium has been a massive success, hosting many national acts already and poised to be the center of entertainment and attraction for the entire community in the years to come.

Some more projects were also completed in these past few years. The next move was the renovation of the LSPA building for the arts organizations. The Broad Street apartments were renovated and were gifted to LaGrange College for their Servant Leadership Program. The old Tom’s music building on Main Street was acquired and leased to Stephen’s Exclusive. Lastly, the old fire station site is now a new office building and home to District 4 Health. This is a private/public partnership between the Callaway Foundation, the DLDA, and the District 4 health and state properties commission. The property is owned by the DLDA.

As exciting as all of this progress is, there are still many projects to come. Firstly, there is the renovation of public parking at the area behind Charlie Joseph’s and will represent the West Promenade termination. The scheduled date of completion is October 6 of this year. Also in the plans is the acquisition of property of the former Daniel Lumber Company, the Westbrook Tire building, the McKay building, and the David Electrical Property on the south end of the downtown area. The properties are being considered for re-development between the City, the DLDA, and the Callaway Foundation.

The last thing on the docket is the one that has received the most attention as of late. This is of course the acquisition of the former Mansour’s building by the City which will become the home of a new Marriott Courtyard Hotel with a 200 space public parking deck with funding by a grant. This project will be between the City, the DLDA, and the Callaway Foundation. There was recently a ceremonial sledge hammer swing on site at the Square and the pre-processes of demolition have already begun. The hotel is expected to be up and operational in no more than 18 months.

With all of the progress that the community has made and all of the changes on the way, looking back on all of the development is crucial. From a small town community rooted in the textile industry, the changes that have been made are incredible and truly speak to the spirit of those that live here. The public and private relations are truly to credit for all the successes that we are experiencing and it is with full hearts and grateful spirits that we enter the future. The city of LaGrange is poised to be one of the fastest growing and most successful areas in all of Georgia and will surely become the forefront, the standard bearer for communities to follow into the next generation.

Jeremy Andrews Staff Writer