The New Downtowns
Destinations to Live, Work and Play
by Ruth E. Dávila
These days, living the city life doesn’t require a zip code in the heart of Atlanta. Plenty of outlying cities boast their own downtown, blending the greatest aspects of mixed-use development: hot places to live, cool places to play, and direct access to employment hubs. More and more people who are relocating are pulled toward town centers for newer, cheaper real estate—with more square footage to the dollar—and the connectedness of living near a town center. Other top reasons: better school districts and more space to raise children, with walkable areas and a community identity. When you’re choosing your new home, it’s worth looking into some of these up-and-coming—or long cherished—downtowns. Each with its own twist, there’s a new downtown for virtually any professional.
Marietta’s downtown is attracting a younger, trendier crowd, while maintaining the appeal that put it on the map.
“We’re one of the few squares in the metro area,” says Beth Sessoms, manager of economic development for the City of Marietta. “A lot of new developments mimic downtowns, but we are an original downtown, and people value that.”
Live: While the square lacks residential space, there are some new residential developments nearby, and neighborhoods with charming homes are within walking distance.
Work: WellStar Health System (Kennestone Hospital) and Cobb County Administration buildings are mega employers.
Play: Glover Park has year-round events. Visit the Farmer’s Market, Saturday mornings, May to November; the free concert on the square the last Friday of each month, April to September; brown-bag lunch concerts in spring/fall; the Gobble Jog, a Thanksgiving race; and Santa on the Square.
Dine: Around 30 restaurants to please any palate—Greek, Italian, Thai, Chinese, American, French, Colombian, Australian.
Shop: Intermingled with antique stores are hipper boutiques. Shops include L Michelle, Doodlebugz, dk Gallery, Go FISH, Limelight and Marietta Wine Market.
Delight: Hop on a tour by the Historic Marietta Trolley Company, or take a yoga class at the new yoga lifestyle boutique, Lulu Lemon.
Info: www.mariettasquare.com, 770-794-5512.
Just five miles from downtown Atlanta, Decatur is a mix of deep roots, pop culture and vibrant town life.
“You can live and work in downtown Decatur and walk to a wide range of retail, restaurants, parks and other amenities,” says Lyn Menne, assistant city manager of the City of Decatur, Georgia. “In our city cars are truly optional.”
Live: Residents have the option of living in traditional, historic single family neighborhoods or in a variety of townhouses, apartments or smaller condominium developments that provide a bridge between the traditional neighborhoods and downtown. Several new downtown condominium projects provide new contemporary living with a wealth of retail and restaurant options right outside the front door.
Work: Downtown offers traditional office buildings or open, warehouse/loft spaces for creative ventures. Many city residents work for large employers, such as Emory (the university and hospital system) and the Centers for Disease Control.
Play: Festivals abound: the Memorial Day Arts Festival; the full-blown Decatur Book Festival in August; the Decatur Craft Beer Festival in October; the annual Decatur Beach Party; the organic farmer’s market Wednesdays and Saturdays; the concert series on the square offered every Wednesday at noon and every Saturday evening in May and September; and many more.
Dine: More than 80 restaurants—most locally owned— are located within Decatur’s four square miles. Award winning restaurants like Watershed and Cakes & Ale are just two of a growing number of Decatur restaurants that emphasize locally sourced foods.
Shop: Indie galore. Venues range from an artist’s market cooperative (Homegrown Decatur) to boutiques for just about everything, even one called “Got Cigars?”.
Delight: Eddie’s Attic’s open-mic night helped launch the careers of nationally known talents like the Indigo Girls, Sugarland and John Mayer. Beer lovers should head also to the Brick Store Pub.
Info: www.decaturga.com, 404-370-4100
Frequent flyer? Convenient access to the Hartsfield- Jackson Atlanta Airport isn’t the only draw to this historic town. “Our downtown population swells to 60,000 people during the day,” says Erica Rocker, business development manager for the City of College Park, noting convention and business traffic.
Live: A plethora of reasonably-priced housing abounds in College Park, while the downtown— revitalized in 1999—boasts historic homes.
Work: The Georgia Department of Economic Development offers grants and loans to rehab historic buildings in College Park for office space. The nearby airport employs approximately 40,000 people. Other major businesses in the area include the Federal Aviation Administration, Chick-fil-A and Sysco.
Play: Check out the Main Street Wine Stroll each May; annual Christmas Parade and Tree- Lighting Ceremony; and the Fall Arts Festival the last Saturday in September.
Dine: Pecan Restaurant for fine dining; Michon’s BBQ for casual atmosphere and live jazz Thursday through Sunday; The Brake Pad for a local watering hole; Our Place Bakery & Café for Wine Tasting Wednesdays and jazz three nights a week; and karaoke at La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant on Virginia Ave.
Shop: Main Street offerings include antiques store Bird in the Hand, shoe store Head Over Heels, and boutique So Very English! Nearby Camp Creek Marketplace offers a wide range of big-name stores.
Delight: An urban farm sits on four acres around a Victorian house at 3721 Main St., depicting a period of wide verandas and assorted fruit trees, rows of collard greens and garden herbs—complete with chicken coop.
Info: www.collegeparkga.com, 404-767-1537
Situated in Gwinnett County, Duluth has a surprising amount of ethnic flair. “There are 57 different languages spoken in the homes of the local school system, creating a rich diversity of cultural experiences,” says Alisa Williams, public information and marketing director, City of Duluth.
Live: Downtown is surrounded by suburbs with spacious, newer, more economical homes.
Work: With easy access to I-85, Duluth boasts several high-tech firms, including the global headquarters of NCR Corporation, which houses some 1,200 jobs after its recent relocation here.
Play: Kick back at free events at the spectacular outdoor amphitheater and Town Green including: SummerStage Concert Series; Flicks on the Bricks Outdoor Movie Series; Symphony on the Green Series; Barefoot in the Park Fine Arts Festival; and more.
Dine: Go to Boudreaux’s for eclectic, authentic Cajun; Park Café for fine dining in a converted boarding house; Steverino’s for pizza and subs; Chocolate Perks, for “counter culture” coffee and chocolates.
Shop: A variety of locally owned businesses fill the town center, particularly specialty retailers and interesting quaint shops, including a nationally known violin shop, Huthmaker Bowed String.
Delight: Be sure to catch a play, movie, comedy or concert at the Red Clay Theatre.
Info: www.duluthga.net, 770-497-5309
Smyrna brought its 1998 plan to fruition, creating a town center with a library, community center, private housing, retail, office space and municipal buildings known as the Village Green.
“Our residents enjoy a rich quality of life and are expressively eager to share the Smyrna experience,” said Jennifer Bennett, director of community relations for the City of Smyrna. Live: Find posh townhomes in the Market Village—the Williamsburg brick-style social center— or West Village. Old and new single-family homes are just a few miles from downtown.
Work: Big businesses reside in the Cumberland- Galleria employment center (the second largest in Atlanta), which is adjacent to the City of Smyrna. The Market Village and Integrity Heights boast small-office condos, some of whose tenants include BryTech, Inc., The Harwen Group, Raine Health Services, Dap Inc. and Wright Financial Group.
Play: Choose from the Village Green’s full agenda, starting April with the Spring Jonquil Festival and 5-mile jog; a summer music series; the City Birthday Celebration in August; Taste of Smyrna; Oktoberfest; Santa’s Christmas treelighting; “Noon Year’s Eve” dance party by Radio Disney; and more.
Dine: Market Village is quaint by day, lively at night, with evening socials at Atkins Park Tavern, Zucca and the Village Café.
Shop: Social and service businesses—such as D’Chel Spa, Fusion Salon and Evene Day Spa— thrive in the Market Village.
Delight: Smyrna has Georgia’s only cityowned library of this scope and size, with a widely popular children’s program and adjacent playground.
Info: www.Smyrnacity.com, 770-431-2860
A 10-acre urban-style park—a beautiful gathering place with a fountain—is the anchor for Suwanee’s 65-acre Town Center, built near the original downtown. “Creating a downtown, you can plan for all those things that historical downtowns struggle with, like parking space,” says Denise Brinson, economic and community development director for the City of Suwanee.
Live: A vertical residential and commercial development surrounds the park, with about 30 condos, as well as 120 townhomes and 85 single-family homes behind the retail area.
Work: Located 30 miles from Atlanta, three major highways run through Suwanee: Buford Highway, Peachtree Industrial and I-85, a straight shot to numerous companies. Hewlett- Packard, Mitsubishi Electric and Meggitt Training Systems are among the companies calling Suwanee home.
Play: Enjoy mega events at the park: Suwanee Day (race, parade and entertainment) and summer concerts, with bands such as Cowboy Mouth and Sister Hazel. The animal fest, Woofstock, is sponsored by radio station Star 94. Visit the Old Town for intimate affairs, like the Festa della Pasta spaghetti dinner. Farmer’s market runs May through October, Saturday and Tuesday.
Dine: The town center carries ample restaurants, from typical American at the Old Town Tavern and Grill, to homestyle Italian at Ippolito’s.
Shop: Specialty retailers are filling up the center, including stores like LaTiDa, Panache, Peace Love & Pottery.
Delight: Lounge outdoors on the Suwanee Creek Greenway (four-mile walking and bike trail), connecting 300-acre George Pierce Park with the 85-acre Suwanee Creek Park. A pedestrian bridge even connects the trail to Town Center Park.
Info: www.suwanee.com, 770-945-8996
Newnan was the richest U.S. city per-capita in the 1900s due to cotton and steel, while today it’s a progressive Southern family town. “We are happy to be the city that children like to come home to raise their kids in, and feel that this speaks volumes for our quality of life,” says Linda Bridges-Kee, director of business development for Main Street Newnan.
Live: Newnan’s downtown has 150 lofts, but it’s famous for cool homes. This Old House magazine named Newnan among its “Best Old House Neighborhoods.”
Work: Downtown welcomes start-ups with affordable office suites and “incubator” properties. Area businesses include manufacturing and services firms, like Boatwright CPA, Headley Construction Corp. and PSS Signs.
Play: Market Days run April to December; Pickin’ on the Square showcases musicians; Taste of Newnan and Art Walk are held twice annually; and adults love the wine tasting in June and Oktoberfest. The historic Alamo Theater has late-night entertainment daily.
Dine: Fine dining spans Grill 1904 to Mongeltep Thai. But insiders go to “Mother’s,” where, unadvertised, Miss Lucille cooks a homemade lunch for six tables, cash only. (Go down East Broad to the first alley, then follow the alley to the screen door, where the scent of chicken and Mama will greet you.)
Shop: Browse Newnan’s boutiques—and don’t forget consignment shops, like The Vintage Flea and Encore Décor.
Delight: Stop by the Visitors Center inside the 1904 courthouse, rehabbed in 2010. Also check out the Carnegie Library, featuring local exhibits and a reading room with free WiFi.
Info: www.mainstreetnewnan.com, 770- 253-8283