The City of Ellijay Downtown Development Authority would like to announce a town hall scheduled for September 21st in the First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall. The DDA will host it’s regular September business meeting at 5, and the town hall will begin at 5:30. The purpose of the town hall is to announce a two month trial period impacting downtown parking and collect public feedback.
A proposal is being evaluated to remove the 18 parking spots on the roundabout. In 2019, a third party completed a report on the strengths and weaknesses of Gilmer County. It was noted that the roundabout was a safety hazard. The DDA consulted with the police department in the summer of 2020 and found they shared this concern. The primary issue is that vehicles are backing into oncoming traffic in a heavily congested area. This is compounded by the fact there are 10 crosswalks on the roundabout. In 2021, there were multiple pedestrians hit by cars in downtown Ellijay. The DDA’s focus in evaluating downtown traffic congestion is to make Ellijay safer.
As discussions have been held with the City Council, Police Department, the Joint Development Authority, and a landscape architect, the DDA’s attention has turned to the realization that downtown Ellijay can be made safer AND more enjoyable at the same time. As many retail purchases have moved online, the downtown business center has transitioned from selling transactions to selling experiences. One of the most popular experiences of small town life is the county fair. At the county fair, patrons do not park at the ferris wheel. They park outside the fairgrounds and walk to the ferris wheel. Like the fair, cities are evolving towards a model of walking into the experience. Already, cities such as Athens, Jasper, Greenville, Blue Ridge, and Asheville are closing city streets to enhance the consumer experience in their downtown areas. The 18 spaces in question could be used for outside dining, art work, Instagram spots, musicians, and a walking tour. Another proposal is to allow existing downtown restaurants to set up food carts. Strategically placing each of these attractions across downtown potentially increases the foot traffic in each store leading to more sales. In turn, this will increase sales tax revenue for the City.
As discussions have been held, concerns have been expressed. The public should be aware that the DDA has recently taken steps to better utilize existing unused parking. New parking signs have been placed throughout downtown to guide drivers to the parking lot behind Dalton State College and the County Employee Parking Lot. Previously, public parking was not available in the County Employee Lot, but the DDA reached an agreement with the County to make spaces available to the public on weekends. The Dalton State Lot is predominantly empty on weekends. Considering these efforts, the DDA has substantially increased downtown parking. Additionally, the DDA is not overlooking the one handicapped space, nor furniture loading. Solutions to assist both are being reviewed.
A trial period is proposed from the Apple Festival through Light Up Ellijay. It should be noted that these spots are already barricaded by the police for two weeks during each Apple Festival. If the trial period is a failure, nothing changes. This process is simply a test for the DDA to collect information and make a recommendation to the City Council.
The DDA will host town halls before and after the trial period to collect community feedback. We hope to see you at the first meeting at 5:30 on September 21st in the First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall.
Reece Sanford, Chairman
City of Ellijay Downtown Development Authority