Downtown Decatur: Decatur, Georgia
Constantly changing and evolving, downtown Decatur's character comes from the successful marriage of historic and contemporary buildings and uses. The emergence of downtown as a dynamic and prosperous neighborhood spans more than three decades and is a story of planning, commitment, patience, and investment.
A 100-acre area within a 0.5 mile radius of Old Courthouse Square.
The completion of MARTA station renovations in 2007 marked a milestone in downtown's long-term redevelopment strategy. The station — which connects Decatur to Atlanta and lies beneath Old Courthouse Square, the neighborhood's living room — had been an aesthetic concern since it opened in 1979. During the past 25 years, the city secured more than $10 million to improve the station and enhance the surrounding streetscape. Today the station, which has some 4,500 daily passenger entries, blends seamlessly with other neighborhood buildings and includes a bus-to-rail transfer facility.
Development proposals, some calling for massive buildings around the then-new Decatur MARTA station, galvanized residents and eventually led to building height restrictions to preserve views of the Old Courthouse on the square and the downtown skyline. It is a respect for surroundings that continues to guide new development in the neighborhood. Rather than mandating a prescribed look, design guidelines focus on the traditional building line, cornice lines, and street-level activities that engage pedestrians in order to create the feel of an urban room.
The cornerstone for sustainable neighborhood redevelopment and MARTA station improvements was the 1982 Decatur Town Center Plan. More than a half dozen subsequent plans — streetscape, transportation, strategic — built upon this vision, ultimately returning downtown to the prominent role it played in the 1950s, before the rise of suburbanization. Finding ways to reconnect residents with the square was an early priority, one that successfully harnessed support for redevelopment efforts.
A 1995 streetscape plan put downtown on a road diet; lane widths were reduced and sidewalks widened. The pedestrian experience was further enhanced with more than 400 street trees, public art, and upgraded street furnishings. New public parking, located behind buildings, encouraged visitors to "park once" and then walk to where they need to go. The city added dedicated bicycle lanes throughout downtown and doubled the number of bike racks. Scooter parking and Zipcars were made available. A Go60Plus shuttle that transports older adults from nearby neighborhoods into downtown recently finished a pilot program.
Many older residents reside downtown. Sixty percent of those in multi-family buildings are empty nesters. Decatur continues to focus on residential development in the neighborhood, with an eye toward attracting younger residents and families. Downtown markets itself as a "mallternative" and "destination for foodies, fashionistas and fun-lovers." Downtown boasts more than 150 unique, locally owned service-oriented and retail businesses and restaurants, some critically acclaimed.
The Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Business Association partner with the city and residents to implement plans and create opportunities for physical, social, and economic growth. The Decatur Beach Party, Arts Festival, and Tour of Homes, as well as the Heritage Festival, Decatur Craft Beer Festival, and AJC Decatur Book Festival are supported by the city in partnership with local nonprofit groups.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Decatur Town Center Plan (1982); result of a citizen-based advisory board; provides foundation for downtown redevelopment; encourages MARTA station renovation, smart growth, implementation
- Downtown Streetscape Master Plan (1995) results in wider sidewalks, public art, street trees, removal of unsightly MARTA elevator shaft and cover, new bus-to-rail transfer station on Church Street
- Decatur design standards (1999) set height limits to preserve view of downtown skyline; encourage development that relates to surrounding environment
- Community Transportation Plan (2007) includes health impact analysis, embraces complete streets
- Some 1,200 residents involved with Strategic Plan (2010); identifies need for better transitions between single-family and commercial properties, streamlined permit process, shared parking
- Decatur Downtown Development Authority implements plans; works with Downtown Business Association to promote downtown
Variety of Uses, Connectivity
- Neighborhood is mixed-use: 50 percent commercial, 25 percent institutional, 25 percent residential
- Old Courthouse Square is the neighborhood's living room, hosting summer concerts, winter bonfire and marshmallow roasts, concerts, and a year-long calendar of festivals and events
- Boutique retail and acclaimed restaurants among 150-plus locally owned downtown businesses
- Multi-modal transportation hub connecting to Atlanta, six miles to the east, via MARTA
- MARTA station (1979), situated beneath Old Courthouse Square, links Decatur to Atlanta
- Bus-to-Rail transfer facility (1995) connects MARTA rail riders to bus and free shuttles
- Design guidelines (1999) avoid prescribed look that would result in artificial history; focus is on relationship of proposed development to surroundings
- Building height limitations of 80 feet imposed (1999) to preserve view of Old Courthouse Square, downtown skyline; variances occasionally granted in exchange for additional affordable housing units
- Centrally located parking encourages visitors to leave cars and walk; all new parking is located behind or beneath new buildings
- Wide sidewalks and street-level retail welcome pedestrians
- Compact, walkable neighborhood encourages bicycles and scooters; easy access to MARTA rail and bus as well as shuttle buses; Zipcar availability
- Dedicated bike lanes with ample bike and scooter parking
- Solar-powered compactor trash receptacles being installed
- Lighting and holiday decorations transitioning to LED lights
- Synthetic soil used in Old Courthouse Square to reduce compaction