ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is celebrating a five-year-long project completion today with the opening of the Downtown Welcome Center in Ellijay, Georgia.
A new branch for the Chamber and a “needed presence” downtown according to community leaders like Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Gilmer Chamber President Paige Green, this new building will work across town from the Chamber home office and welcome center on Craig Street, just off of Highway 515 between the Waffle House and Advance Auto Parts.
Today’s celebration marks the completion of the preparations and renovations, according to Green, who said the day also serves as the beginning of the Chamber’s return to downtown. A “homecoming” of sorts as the Chamber has been in the Watkins House before, located on the downtown square next to the courthouse.
Green said it wasn’t only the Chamber’s efforts, but a collective involving the Chamber, the Board of Commissioners, and State Legislative involvement from Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston. This alliance’s dedication has pushed the project across the year’s to come to today’s fruition.
While that dedication has stretched five years since conversations first began about the Chamber re-opening the Watkins House as a Welcome Center, Green noted that the Board of Directors’ recent Chairman Trent Sanford and current Chairman John Marshall have made the major push through these last two years to begin and finish the actual renovations on the building.
As a part of the Chamber’s return to downtown, Green said publicly that the Chamber is planning more downtown events through their new center and extended hours. She stated, “We do intend to be open Wednesday through Saturday. We want to be a leader in hoping that our merchants will join with us in opening until six or seven o’clock to greet our guests on the weekends as well.”
Green went on to say that the Downtown Center will also be opened for meeting space needs, or for those visitors who simply need a place to sit and rest. She wants the Downtown Welcome Center to be open in this sense for both tourists and locals.
The celebration also saw visits from each of the Gilmer County Commissioners, Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioners Dallas Miller and Karleen Ferguson, as well as Speaker Ralston. Paris offered his thanks to Ralston as well saying that without his help, the community might still be waiting for a downtown center.
Paris spoke about the many “dominoes” that needed to fall in order to accomplish what they have. From relocating the Planning and Zoning Office on the other side of the square to needing help from the Department of Transportation and Ralston for logistics. Paris praised the Chamber and community volunteers and merchants who were integral in making the Welcome Center look as amazing as it does now.
Ralston also offered a few words as he congratulated the county on the facility. He spoke about the history of the Watkins House and its journey through generations and his personal memories of hanging out at the courthouse and walking past the Watkins House everyday after school. Ralston went on to note the significance of the statement the Chamber is making to the citizens of Ellijay and the investment they are making in the community.
However, the day held more meaning than most understood, as they sipped wine from local vineyards and snacked of food from local restaurants, one family shared a moment around a special picture as former Chamber Director Brenda Davis, the lady in the picture, returned to her former offices and joined the celebrations of the changes and growth the building has seen since her last days in it.
The photo, taken in the early 90’s according to Davis. She said it feels good to be back in the building as she pointed out the meetings she held in the large front room and secretary’s office in the room with her photo. She recalled how here entire family got recruited to “volunteer” for events and needs when she held the office and the Welcome Center was there. She chuckled as she pointed out she had an intern, at the time, named Sandy Ott. Now working for University of North Georgia and its expansion campus, Davis recalls her working for the Gilmer Chamber stuffing fliers and mailers for the Chamber.
Davis also recalled a special memory at the Watkins House as they prepared for the Olympics in Atlanta. Davis said it was two years prior and Gilmer was hosting visitors from all over the world. They had received one foreign visitor whose interpreter was not available. He sat on the square as C Lloyd Smith began speaking with him and trying to make him happy with his visit despite the lack of a translator. Davis recalls Smith trying so hard to make this visitor feel welcome despite the major hurdle of language.
Memories like this are built into the bricks of the Watkins House. It seems anyone who lived or worked in Ellijay at the time has some memory tied to the building. As the Chamber returns to its former home, employees, citizens, and even those who no longer live in the county, will return with them to revisit old times, old memories, and tie them together with a new gateway in our community and new visitors creating new memories.
Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber’s Board of Directors, John Marshall offered his thanks for the legacy and the generosity that the Watkins’ family showed years ago when they had donated the building for the public good. Marshall stated, “It is altogether fitting and appropriate that the formerly private residence of this pioneer and progressive family has been transformed into a place to welcome the public.”
ELLIJAY, Ga – Despite numerous weather and climate hurdles including a cold evening sharpened by winds and rain at times, the Downtown Ellijay Business and Community Association (DEBACA) is reporting a very successful year.
With some changes like the absence of the town of Bethlehem that First Baptist Church hosted at last year’s event and added security measures, this year’s event was noticeably different than 2017. Changes that both DEBACA Chairman Steve Cortes and Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey praise as improvements to the event.
One major safety improvement that both parties noted separately was barricades set up to block the parking spaces on the roundabout, allowing pedestrians to safely view both the tree lighting and parade apart from traffic and parade vehicles. While these barricades have been used for the majority of 2018, this is the first Light-Up Ellijay event they have been used. The major difference being that this parade is largely held in the dark with lights on the float and the town decorations illuminating the area.
Chief Lacey noted this year’s event went “very smooth” as they conducted safety and traffic control with six on-duty officers. He also reported no traffic issues during the event and the after-event surge.
The parade hosted around 35 different groups, according to Cortes, and just under 20 vendors in the temporary market throughout the day. Though he says DEBACA did scale back on certain things, the event still pulled in one of the best business days for downtown merchants despite the tree-lighting ceremony being interrupted with a 5-minute rain shower and a continuing sprinkling of rain until the parade.
Lacey referred to the event as a “more traditional Light-Up Ellijay event.” With Santa Claus appearing on the city steps just before 2:00 p.m. and the market on Broad Street quickly following, citizens and merchants in downtown seem to agree saying, “no question its safer and more efficient.”
Along the lines of balancing Light-Up Ellijay between a tourism event and a local event, Cortes told FYN that despite cancelling the Whoville earlier in November, there are still plans to return to it in coming years. However, he did add that DEBACA has been considering multiple options including hosting Whoville in partnership with another organization with available manpower to host the event on a separate day from Light-Up Ellijay and more cosplay actors to enlarge it on its own.
With possibilities for the future of Light-Up Ellijay being discussed, Cortes also noted the he, personally, thinks that the events success could continue into next year by adding to the parade size and seeking opportunities for the marching band or live-music of some sort.
Citizens, law-enforcement, and business owners all seem to agree that Light-Up Ellijay was indicative of continuing a bright future for Ellijay’s Downtown Events.
Gilmer County, GA
There was a large turnout for trick or treating in Downtown Ellijay. The downtown area was filled with our local businesses all dressed up and enjoying the evening handing out candy. Ghosts and goblins of all sizes enjoyed the warm evening with a wide array of costumes. Enjoy the slideshow below:
FYN publishes the arrest reports provided by the GCSO. The Georgia Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. 50-18-70) allows for www.fetchyournews.com to obtain and post the arrest records of any and all individuals arrested in Gilmer County. Those arrests are posted on www.fetchyournews.com for viewing pleasure. Please remember that all individuals listed have been arrested and charged, however, they are presumed innocent until guilt has been proven in a court of law.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Most of the time, when you meet a police officer, it really isn’t a pleasant experience. It has nothing to do with the people, and everything to do with their job.
You may meet them when you’re getting a ticket because you were in a big hurry and may have gone a bit over the limit, or maybe you called because you were robbed and need help, you may have even called to report a wreck and need to give your statement. In any case, the vast majority of the time, police respond to bad situations, it’s really part of the job description.
This year the Ellijay Police Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the police force, hosted a night in an effort to change that. The National Night Out is a nation-wide community-building event that supports officers and organizations across America, but as Ellijay’s original plan for the date of the event in early August, the rain forced a reschedule.
This weekend, the Ellijay Police Foundation made good on that promise by hosting the event Saturday between 4 and 8 p.m. The event saw many of Ellijay’s Officer’s hosting or dropping by to say hello to citizens and share their time to allow the people to speak with them, play with them, and eat with them, all free of charge.
With music flowing across North Main Street and into the parking lot next to First Baptist Church, the Ellijay Police Department partnered with the Ellijay Fire Department, the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office, The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) Task Force, and its sponsors to set up the police motorcycles, police cruisers, the fire truck, a hummer, and a sheriff’s cruiser for citizens to view, sit in, play with, and climb through. Kids and parents alike were allowed to set off the sirens and lights and try on the equipment that these men and women wear every day.
There was also a golf cart with a driving course and the standard test that citizens could go through while wearing “drunk goggles” simulating inebriation.
Pilgrim’s of Ellijay donated chicken and hot dogs for grilling along with the manpower and the grill to cook for the event. Country Corner Kitchen and Coca-Cola donated a trailer and people to hand out cold drinks. North Georgia Party Rentals donated a bounce house and a dunk tank to help celebrate as well.
That dunk tank saw major attention from citizens as officers climbed in. For a one dollar donation, a person could take three shots at the target to dunk the officer in the tank.
A surprise arose as a donation came from the department’s own Chief Edward Lacey to dunk one of his officers. What many citizens didn’t hear at first was that Lacey had jokingly called it “insurance” as he would be in the tank himself later in the day.
His “insurance” was response to a few people that had managed to run up and hit the button by hand instead of throwing a ball at the dunk tank. The terms were that no one was allowed to hit the button by hand unless they beat his own donation.
The protection was short-lived, however, as his officers found a “generous donor” that offered $100 to allow two officers to hit the button together to drop the Chief by hand.
The event came in partnership as the brain-child of Chief Edward Lacey and hosted by the Ellijay Police Foundation. The foundation’s purpose is to build and foster community with the police as well as gathering funds and donations to provide more training to these officers. Lacey has since reported that over $500 was raised by the dunk tank in support of these efforts.
According to Detective Colburn of the Ellijay Police Department, this is set to become an annual event for the Ellijay Police Department, though it will likely return to its original August date next year as the rain delay pushed it back to September this year.
Check out more photos from the event with our Album on FYN’s Facebook.
ELLIJAY, GA. – After years on River Street, citizens are waking up today to see the Cantaberry Restaraunt in a new location.
Though not that far from the old location, the restaurant’s new spot boasts many upgrades for the business include almost doubling their seating and expanding the outdoor tables onto a shaded deck. The new location is on the southern corner of the downtown roundabout next door to the Blue Ridge Olive Oil Company.
According to Manager Jessica Bruner, the site can hold just under 100 people and are already planning on live music events and similar activities for the outdoor area. Bruner did say the Cantaberry will be looking to expand their staff as they gauge the community response to the new site.
The staff is taking the “new” brand to extremes as Bruner said they bought all new equipment, barely bringing anything from the old location. Additionally, they will be adding a dinner and brunch menu in the coming weeks as well as beverages from local brewers Grumpy Old Men and local winery Chateau Meichtry as well as Merciers Orchard’s Hard Cider and Georgia’s SweetWater Brewing Co.
Though Bruner said they could be looking into other options including other local wineries, she didn’t detail any other plans in store for the upgrade.
The special day kicked off with their opening at 11:00 a.m. today hosting the first two tables. Ann and Bob visited from Young Harris as the first seated guests in the new location. The second set of guests through the door were Katrina and Jesse, the first official Ellijay residents to visit.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Disputes arose in Ellijay this week during a meeting of the Ellijay City Council over a variance request at 50 Depot Street. Could this variance bring trains to Ellijay?
The council discussed the request from Michael Duke, owner of the business at 50 Depot Street. However, Duke does not own the land on which his building sits. This detail was the core of the debate as Duke leases the land from the well-known CSX Railroad company. In order to purchase the land, Duke needed the variance request approved.
Many arose in opposition of the request as nearly 45 to 50 people attended the meeting with the vast majority there for the variance request. Fifty Depot Street is behind Southern Customs on River Street and in front of the Cajun Depot Grill, also on Depot Street.
The item for discussion focused on the land size being on 0.28 acres. With streets on all sides, the landlocked business would not be able to be approved with the minimum being 0.5 acres required. However, discussion rose to include the future of the project at that location as Duke plans on renovating the building to become the “Ellijay Express Railroad.”
With hopes to see railroad tourism similar to that of Blue Ridge, Duke is looking to possibly move in that direction in the future. This became the main focus of discussion by those in attendance.
One of those in opposition was Dennis Haynes, who said he owned the Cajun Depot Grill. In full opposition, Haynes claimed approving the request and allowing the changes would take parking from him, which he has used for numerous years. A deal, Duke stated, was in place before he took ownership of the building. Haynes went on to say that losing the property would put his restaurant in “definite jeopardy.”
Stating the loss of parking would be detrimental to his business to the point of shutting down, Haynes asked the council to deny the request.
He was not the only opposition. However, two others spoke saying they loved the idea and wanted to support the project in a different location. Mike Kirkpatrick and Pamela Thomas Jones both called the project an amazing idea, but for somewhere else. Kirkpatrick told the council he owned lots on Depot Street and wanted them to deny the request due to it being “ill-conceived” in planning for parking and traffic concerns.
Kirkpatrick went on to say that though he wants success for the city and for this project, the council should consider the problems and undue stress they would be putting on local business owners from the congestion such a business would cause.
Pamela Thomas Jones spoke on behalf of her father, Bob Thomas, who owns the property where Southern Customs sits. Jones also echoed the sentiments of the project being a great idea. However, she fervently requested the council not to approve the variance in the meeting. While she did not outright ask for denial, Jones instead plead for the council to look further and deeper at the issue by performing studies and investigations into the effect the business would have on the area.
Based on the need for requirements to approve a variance request, Jones quoted the city’s own ordinance in the meeting while saying that the city needed to understand there are already parking issues in the area as discussed in their meeting from the other speakers.
Duke spoke again saying that they are already looking to improve safety to the lot, he also mentioned he did not want to “block any parking” from the other businesses in the area. He mentioned there were already signs asking people not to park in the depot lot until after a certain time, and he wanted to continue alongside those in Ellijay to increase safety and promoting “what’s right for Ellijay.”
Ellijay Mayor Al Hoyle put the discussion to the agenda item saying that the issue at hand was a variance of minimum lot size. Despite the conversation of the project and the future of the business, Hoyle stated that they were there to discuss minimum lot size.
Throughout the discussion, it became clear Duke owns the building and leases the property. The topic at hand allowed him to purchase the property from CSX Railroad, but it appears that much of the business decisions would not necessarily be stopped by denying the request.
Regardless, the council officially, and unanimously, approved the request. Despite some concerns from the council as to what could have been done earlier in the process for mediation they did allow the variance with the lot being locked in position and unable to increase lot size through additional tracts. So, with the approval, the owner of the building can also become the owner of the property under the building.
Some in opposition to the request walked out of the meeting as soon as the vote finalized. After this, Ellijay can look to the area for changes in the near future. Duke told the council during the meeting that the Blue Ridge line is already set to send some of their engines to Tate, via Ellijay, for repairs and maintenance. However, if Duke follows through with the plans mentioned in the meeting, citizens of Ellijay may see more trains on our tracks sooner than we think.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A house on North Avenue fell victim to an electrical fire just before 7 p.m. on Friday night, April 13, according to Ellijay Fire Chief Sam West.
As fire units responded to the blaze, officials said they had the blaze contained and dying inside of 30 minutes. However, authorities remained on scene into the night monitoring the site and digging through debris for “hot spots.” West said a standard investigation concluded the cause to be an electrical issue.
No one was injured in the fire, and West has confirmed with FetchYourNews that no adjacent buildings were damaged in the fire or the emergency response. The main house, however, suffered extreme damage as most of the roof burned away and the rest of the house suffered smoke and water damage during the incident.
Chief West stated that they received the call to respond to the fire at 6:50 p.m. and had North Avenue closed almost the entire time units were on scene, until just before 11 p.m. that night.