Public involvement of southeast LaGrange residents will be the next major step in revitalizing the Hamilton Road-Whitesville Road corridor.
Local leaders gave LaGrange City Council an informal OK to move forward with requesting proposals for the redevelopment area after hearing from the Prince’s Foundation on Saturday.
“It’s important we all indicate our support for this,” said Page Estes, president of the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce.
She and others urged the city to move quickly.
“It’s important there be no lapse in time,” she said. “I’ve been involved in projects like this before where everyone comes together and then it sits on a shelf. You lose the overall effort.”
City leaders agreed that a confluence of events – movement with the Georgia Department of Transportation to widen Hamilton Road and two proposed large developments in the area – make this the time to do a project focusing on southeast LaGrange.
“Today things are lining up,” said LaGrange Mayor Jeff Lukken. “Perhaps the most important thing is, we have developers who believe in this area and want to invest in it. That investment is here today. If we wait a year or two, they will fly off to some other project and we might not revisit southeast LaGrange for another 20 years.”
The Prince’s Foundation, Prince Charles’ global organization that helps redevelop areas with an eye to sustainability, spent Friday and Saturday in LaGrange, meeting with local leaders and touring the neighborhoods up for redevelopment. They shared the results of their quick look at the area Saturday morning.
Any further planning would have to be done after the city sends out a “request for proposals.” The Prince’s Foundation could wind up doing further study or it could be done by a different planning firm.
The Foundation on Saturday went over what it considers positives and negatives in the area. Ben Bolgar, senior design director, said the area does have good attributes, pointing to the Griggs Recreation Center, Kight Library on Union Street, Union Street-Frank Cox Park, as well as churches and day cares and even funeral homes that are known to bring the community together.
But the planners said at least one person on the tour Friday was nearly brought to tears over the loss of the school – not Cannon Street Elementary, which closed last year, but East Depot High School, which was the black high school before consolidation.
“They really felt like their generation of history was lost,” with its closing, he said.
The few residents planners talked to also said they felt disconnected from educational opportunities as well as health care.
“They feel a little bit like they are on an island,” Bolgar said.
Hooper Brooks, the foundation’s international director, took a look at the environmental opportunities in the area. He said a community garden would not only improve the environment and create greenspace, it also would help create a sense of community people were looking for. Food harvested could be sold by residents or even made available through local food banks.
Carolyn Burke, of the LaGrange Housing Authority, liked that idea.
“If someone didn’t have a job, they could work in the garden,” she said.
The foundation had two big recommendations on Saturday, which city leaders will have to consider. One is a large park and greenspace area and the other is a major east-west road that goes over the railroad tracks to connect southeast LaGrange to the rest of the city, which doesn’t exist now.
“There’s poor east-west infrastructure, partly because of the railroad,” said Brooks.
Councilman LeGree McCamey lives and works in southeast LaGrange. He said he likes the plan, but wants to see what a larger group of residents have to say about it before the city starts making decisions.
“I’m all for anything that can improve that section of town,” he said. “It was one of the first things I campaigned on. I’m waiting for the piece of the puzzle where we involve the neighborhood. I want to get ideas from them.”