This story originally appeared in the April 2016 edition of Georgia's Cities.
One of the gateway murals on a MARTA-owned retaining wall.
In the summer of 2015, the city of Chamblee was invited to participate in the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership, a partnership of GMA, the Georgia Cities Foundation and the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the College of Environment and Design. City staff and the Chamblee Downtown Development Authority (DDA) worked with senior UGA landscape architecture student Juan da Silva to create design options for Chamblee’s historic commercial business district Peachtree Road.
Peachtree Road was the primary commercial corridor in Chamblee before the construction of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, which is now called Peachtree Boulevard. The Norfolk Southern and MARTA rail lines dominate one side of Peachtree Road, but the other side contains a mix of historic storefronts from the early 20th Century, warehouses redeveloped into loft office spaces, and new condominium and residential developments. With adjacent areas seeing renewed interest amid the new construction of several mixed-use developments and a Whole Foods shopping center, Peachtree Road required a unique aesthetic that signifies entry to the historic downtown corridor. Silva’s task was to determine how to highlight the corridor’s character, knit together a community divided by railroad tracks, and create a more attractive shopping and dining district.
The final plan included several gateway mural opportunities along the corridor: one on a MARTA-owned retaining wall and one each at two railroad underpasses. Adding vibrant art to these currently drab spaces is an opportunity to highlight cultural and historic themes in the community while creating memorable landmarks. Coupled with new ways of finding signage at key intersections, the plan includes both visually interesting and useful elements.
Chamblee’s Downtown Renaissance Plan also included enhanced streetscape designs for certain segments of Peachtree Road. Silva identified problem areas where wide areas of asphalt contributed to higher automobile speeds than the posted limits, which contributed to an unpleasant pedestrian experience. While there is an existing project to improve the right-of-way along the railroad, Silva used those plans to design sidewalk and parking configurations on the building side. The plans also involved several off-street parking lot designs that could boost the appeal of existing commercial spaces and make retail more viable. Infill building designs were added to currently vacant lots to complete the urban scale and create a more interesting pedestrian environment.
Silva presented the Chamblee Downtown Renaissance Plan at a meeting of the mayor and city council, along with assembled staff and the public. After very positive reaction to the presentation, Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson and the city council allocated $100,000 to see that elements of the plan are realized. Under the direction of the Chamblee DDA, city staff is working to determine the feasibility and priority of the identified improvements. The gateway mural designs were deemed a key first project and staff is finalizing the framework of a public art program where citizens and downtown stakeholders will get a chance to participate in the mural design.