Residence: Warner Robins
Occupation: Director of economic development and marketing, Centerville
Q: What do Centerville officials mean when they say they’re creating a town center?
A: We’re creating an area with a commercial base that has an historic, downtown feel. A place with shops, eating spots, amenities and loft living adjacent to Houston County Galleria mall and the Center Park at Centerville. We’re creating a great place for doing business and for people to congregate, celebrate and enjoy green space. It’ll provide a sense of “our town” for Centerville and be a spot we can welcome all of Middle Georgia to enjoy.
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Q: It’s been talked about for years — is it really happening now?
A: Centerville was in on Main Street America revitalization and economic development ideas in the early 2000s, but with the economic downturn of 2007 it got put on the back burner — but not forgotten. With the economy bouncing back, officials really dedicated themselves to getting things done. They did master planning in 2016 that included town hall meetings to make sure we’re responsive to community desires. I was hired four months ago to do overall economic development but focus on the town center. So yeah, it’s happening.
Q: And the city is building it?
A: The city is building Center Park at Centerville and working to create the infrastructure and environment for a developer to build the town center. It will be a public-private partnership but the city isn’t going to build buildings or become a landlord. A developer — hopefully one developer — will do that. Our part will be helping create a setting with identifiable details like wrought iron street lamps, banners, benches, streetscapes, cute hydrants, all of that. It’s not feasible for the city to buy the property and we’re being careful not to invest all our capitol on this or raise taxes. But through good incentive policies and commitment to making it a great place, we can draw and motivate businesses to come invest. There’s interest.
Q: Can you outline where it will be?
A: Kind of a triangle north of Houston County Galleria along Gunn Road then up the north end of Margie Drive to North Houston Lake Boulevard, then back down North Houston Lake Boulevard to the mall. That’s the town center and it could expand. Center Park at Centerville is basically across North Houston Lake Boulevard from that and down East Church Street and up toward Bassett Drive. Neighborhoods surround parts of it.
Q: Having worked alongside Mayor John Harley, city council members and other economic development people, take all that and imagine 10 years from now you’re at the corner of Watson Boulevard and North Houston Lake Boulevard and you head north. What’s there?
A: Let’s say seven years. I think of it like this: I’ll be at a point in my life where I have a small family. It’s Saturday afternoon and I run to the mall to get something at Belk’s or J.C. Penny’s or another big-name store. I get it, look around a little and walk out the mall and head north past newly opened out-parcel stores and up a big, grand outdoor stairway to Gunn Road and the new town center. I meet my husband and kids for something to eat at a great little restaurant. A perfect place for an Instagram-able photo to put online. We shop a little more at mom and pop boutique-style stores and after a while head across North Houston Lake Boulevard to hang out in the park. All along we chat with friends. Some of them live right there in the lofts. It’ll be a great place for kids, teenagers and the perfect destination for a first date — or any date: movies, all kinds of shopping and great eateries. Places to just enjoy some time out.
Q: That’s pretty vivid.
A: I grew up in Suwanee, Georgia, a small town that developed a town center years back. In fact, people from here went there to get ideas. I had my first job as a waitress there in high school and worked there summers during college. I went on my first date there. I saw the great things it did for Suwanee. It’s easy to envision that here.
Q: What’s top of the list for actually getting this done?
A: As far as the town center, it’s having discussions and working to get the right developer to create this with us. Practical infrastructure is key to the town center and park. As far as the park goes, it’s step by step, but nice restrooms are a priority. Things have begun and since its public property people are walking and playing with their dogs out there already. I do. My husband and I go throw the ball with our dog. We may not have all the amenities going in a year or two, but we’ll have it all well laid out, infrastructure in and things like play areas and the splash pad going. And restrooms.
Q: What are other park features?
A: Active and passive lawn areas; the splash pad water feature to play in; an imaginative, safe playground; unstructured play spaces; nice restrooms; a pavilion; a gazebo for meetings and available to rent; an amphitheater with seating for 1,500; plenty of open greenspace and walking trails which we’re planning to connect with trails in Warner Robins and throughout Houston County; and a road going through with 55 parking places that can also be used during festivals and farmer’s markets for vendor space. The amphitheater will be last.
Q: You came to Centerville after working with the Houston County Development Authority, right? So you know the area well already.
A: I had a wonderful time there. I was in on Sandler Nonwoven Corp. coming to Perry so it was great seeing that through and what development can do for the county. It was amazing seeing the high level of cooperation and work between all the different government officials and agencies. I mean, Mayor Harley was even willing to delay Centerville’s fireworks for the sake of Sandler people. With the amount of Southern hospitality, community spirit and willingness to go above and beyond to help meet the needs of residents it’s hard not to fall in love with Houston County.
Q: So you like it here?
A: Realizing how small towns work, give and are eager to get things done, I’m dedicating my life to small town public administration. And I absolutely love this city, what it stands for and has to offer. We’re here to play with the big dogs. Plus, I’m a project person. I love projects. Once I get going on something I love to see it through.
Q: Cost? What’s all this going to cost?
A: I can’t speak for developer costs, but the city is already looking at a $1.8 million investment toward the park. (Primarily from SPLOST related funds.)
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.