The detailed plan for the southeast corner of Marietta that houses Life University and Southern Polytechnic State University along Cobb Parkway and South Marietta Parkway is a city-led effort to improve the roads and sidewalks for the higher-education area.
The most critical portion of the plan includes building two connector roads that would stretch from Cobb Parkway to Franklin Road, each with bike lanes in both directions and sidewalks with lighting that line each side.
Construction of University North Parkway, between Polytechnic Drive and Life’s Way to Franklin Road at Parkway Place, and University South Parkway, from Barclay Circle to Franklin Road near Franklin Forest Industrial Park, would begin in 2018.
Part of the $14.5 million could be funded by the $68 million redevelopment bond, if passed, with the federal government covering as much as 80 percent, according to Kyethea Clark, an urban planner for the city.
Brian Binzer, the city’s development services director, said even though the University Enhancement plan is a separate project from the items identified by the Franklin Road redevelopment bond, the two initiatives complement each other as part of the goal to make the entire area into a green technology corridor.
The green technology corridor would be a joint effort by government, business and the academic community to create jobs in a specific geographic location focused on sustainable and renewable energy technologies.
The Marietta University Enhancement District lies in a major transportation route, with congestion on connecting roads like Fairground Street and South Cobb Drive.
The listed transportation projects in the plan total $26.4 million, said Clark.
If the University Enhancement plan is approved by the City Council, and the $68 million bond is approved by Marietta residents on Nov. 5, the money could fund the construction of sidewalks, trails and parking structures around the two universities.
“Streetscape improvements projects along South Marietta Parkway, trail systems linking the universities and the community, and sidewalk connections are some of the other projects that are important to bring about the character and walkability to the area,” Clark said.
The University Enhancement plan was designed in collaboration with Cobb County’s Northwest Transit Corridor initiative.
This includes a Bus Rapid Transit station, possibly called the University Center Station, on Cobb Parkway where University North Parkway would connect.
The University Enhancement plan said the transit station is a long-range plan that would take more than 10 years to complete.
University study finds flaws
The Marietta University Enhancement District Plan was an eight-month study that began in October and was funded by an $80,000 federal grant.
The master plan states the university district only has 2,433 residents with 1,600 students living on the Southern Polytechnic campus and 400 on the Life University campus.
However, in a 2-mile radius surrounding that district, there are 30,329 residents.
The lack of sidewalks and pedestrian crossings along the highly trafficked roads has disconnected campuses from the rest of the city and limited the area’s economic growth, especially with retail and night life options.
The study reveals that nearly half of the commercial property within that 2-mile radius is industrial, with limited office space.
A joint project between Southern Polytechnic and Life University would be the University Center along the western side of Cobb Parkway where the two campuses share a border.
The city would build the road infrastructure, but otherwise the project would be between the two universities with a commercial developer, said Ron Dempsey, with the University Advancement department of Southern Polytechnic.
The University Center would be two buildings, with a mix of residential and retail, including a book store, as well as green spaces and plazas designed as gathering places.
Dempsey said the development would begin as soon as property was acquired and construction plans were approved, hopefully by 2014.
The existing property houses a car rental business, used-car dealership, pawn shop and a Regency Inn & Suites, which the plan calls a distressed motel.
Does area lack a social scene?
The University Enhancement plan said the goal is to transform the “auto-oriented strip commercial environment to the active, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use environment envisioned,” which would mean discouraging businesses like self-storage facilities.
Instead the plan recommends land use strategies that would better the community, such boutiques where students crave to spend money, as well as residential development beyond campus housing.
Dempsey said the area lacks a social scene.
He wants the plan to promote a mix of development, including student housing, condominiums targeting faculty and staff, and “up-scale” restaurants and bars.
“I want it to be a destination point for people all over Cobb County,” Dempsey said.
Making a statement at entry points
In fact, the focus of the University Enhancement plan was to give a guide on how the area can make a statement to people entering Marietta from the north. This would make both campuses more visible and appealing.
Dempsey said this identity would be a “sense of place and character.”
Dempsey said the plan has made the case for needed improvements, and that the area is “ripe for investment and would provide a good return.”
He said both schools are key assets to the city and county through workforce development.
“I think both universities are gems that need to be partnered with by both the county and city to be developed,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey said connectivity in the area will lead to growth, but that growth might be stalled until the roads and streetscape improvements are completed.
“When government invests in the infrastructure, many times businesses follow if it is done well,” he said.
Clark said it may “take many, many years just to see dirt turning or change come about within the study area.”