This woman named Erin spoke at the Loganville’s special meeting last Thursday’s morning. After hearing a report from real estate consultants Haddow & Co., she asked why Loganville couldn’t develop its downtown the way Monroe has.
Monroe did it without building apartments, she said.
This has been a fairly common sentiment from those opposed to the proposed Connolly development of downtown.
Mayor Rey Martinez said you couldn’t compare Monroe and Loganville, since Monroe is a county seat. They were “apples and oranges,” he said.
That’s halfway to the right answer, at least as far as I can tell. But here’s the rest.
Monroe has not developed a downtown. It has redeveloped an existing one.
When taco joint Silver Queen opened on Monday in Monroe, it was the first restaurant or retail establishment in downtown that built its location from scratch. Every other place, from South on Broad to Rinse to the Wayfarer to Coffee Camper, has renovated an old building. Those old places were here, as Martinez said, because this was the county seat and thus the center of commerce for a long while.
This matters. If my friend Brian Kearney of Winged Foot Running in Monroe had to build a shop from the ground up, I doubt he could have swung it. But instead he got into an old building, installed a front desk, stuck some shoe displays on the wall, and presto, a running shoe store.
Having the existing structures in place make it far less risky for businesses to open in downtown Monroe, since the upfront costs are so much lower.
Loganville has a handful of old buildings in downtown, some with businesses inside, but there may not be enough to provide the critical mass necessary to make a thriving downtown.
So if Loganville is to have a downtown, someone’s going to have to build something. And that’s risky.
How do you mitigate that risk? By putting people right next door. And to put people right next door in a downtown, you need density, which means you need apartments and townhomes. Do you need 800? Probably not. But you do need some. Which, by the way, Monroe has.
I should know. I live in one. It’s one of about 20 lofts on Broad Street. There are also small complexes on Jackson Street and in between Broad and Midland north of the downtown core. There are some that just opened on Alcovy. There is also, wait for it, public housing right outside the downtown footprint on Washington Street. None of these are huge amounts, but they are all within walking distance of downtown businesses. And the only crime I’ve witnessed my apartment dwellers commit is jaywalking across Spring St. on our way to Southern Brewing Co.
More are on the way. 72 units in front of the mill on Broad Street. 20 or so as part of the Veteran’s Walk project on Alcovy. A handful above the new John’s.
But while Loganville cannot follow Monroe’s path, there is at least one idea that transfers. Go slowly. Downtown Monroe wasn’t re-built in a day and downtown Loganville won’t be built in one either. That was, not at all coincidentally, Haddow’s chief recommendation to the council. Let’s hope they were listening.