By Natalie Simms
Among the projects to be funded through the 2017 SPLOST is $2 million for improvements to the Fifth Avenue River District. What those improvements will look like is still up for debate but local business owners and officials will get their first look at proposed recommendations this fall.
City Manager Sammy Rich says they are working with consultant Eric Ganther with Nelson\Nygaard to put together a conceptual plan for what the River District and how to use the SPLOST funds.
“We won’t start collecting any money on the SPLOST until April 2019 so we have a lot of lead time on this. We are just really focusing on planning now and what will that corridor feel and look like,” says Rich.
That corridor or “River District” is the area between West Third Street over to Fifth Avenue and from the Fifth Avenue bridge toward Turner McCall Boulevard (near Trinity United Methodist Church).
The Rome-Floyd Planning Department is leading the effort in working with the consultant on the project.
Artagus Newell, planning director, says the consultant currently is studying transportation, transit, pedestrian and streetscape options for the area. The $2 million SPLOST funds are to be used for improvements including streetscape, right-of-way acquisition and utility improvements.
Rich says the ‘streetscape’ is anything that would help beautify the district making it more attractive to current and future business owners and developers. The overall goal is to “allow the spirit of downtown Rome to extend beyond Broad Street.”
Adds Newell: “Nothing specific has been proposed yet. Some initial ideas include better ‘entrance markings’, sidewalk improvements, connections or widening, more and better pedestrian crossings and connectivity to other parts of downtown. Our goal is to get people safely to different areas of downtown so connectivity is important. For the district to be fully visualized and folks to have a pleasant time while there, they have to be able to walk around safely and comfortably.”
Kirk Milam, director of Public Services, also is working closely with the consultant. He is focused on traffic/roads for pedestrians, bicycles and cars in the area. One idea proposed for the area has been the installation of a round-about at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West Third Street and Avenue A.
“That is one of those ideas that was thrown out in a brainstorming session,” says Milam. “There is nothing concrete on that, it is just a concept that we were thinking about. We are still reviewing how to maximize the space we have to get the results we want to accomplish…we may put a bigger emphasis on pedestrian appeal through greenery, landscaping or artwork versus wider lanes and on-street parking for vehicles.”
Local businessman Gorg Hubenthal owns The Foundry Growler Station in the Fifth Avenue River District. He would like to see the focus of the SPLOST project to be on improving sidewalks in the area.
“They’ve repaved West Third Street, but the sidewalks look like trash. Pedestrian traffic can’t walk to my business because the sidewalk is all busted up. Folks need to able to walk safely on the sidewalks and not trip and fall,” he says. “And if we can put some crosswalks in…that would really be a good added bonus.”
Hubenthal says he feels additional greenspace would be good for the district, along with parking.
“We don’t need a four-lane bridge here. We could have parking on the bridge and use two lanes for traffic. That would also slow folks down in the area,” he says. “We have the opportunity to do some cool stuff on a smaller scale than what’s done on Broad Street but we have to improve how folks get here first.”
Newell says the consultant should have his study and recommendations completely by this fall hopefully by September or early October. Findings will be shared with the public for input before final recommendations are made to the Rome City Commission.