The West Marietta Community Improvement Group is made up of residents from the Carriage Oaks and Lee’s Crossings neighborhoods, among others, who think their part of the city needs more attention.
It all started because of a zoning request by QuikTrip to put a gas station near Carriage Oaks, said Rick Maher, a retired federal probation officer.
The group then led talks with city officials to include funding for a streetscape and sidewalks along Whitlock Avenue under the $68 million redevelopment bond approved by voters last November. Originally proposed to provide $1 million in funding, the group convinced City Council to raise Whitlock’s share to $4 million before the bond issuance went before voters.
“We all live along the Whitlock corridor and really sort of banded together to say ‘What can we do to improve the west side of the community?’” said Dave Burke, who moved to Marietta from Pittsburgh and works at an advertising agency in midtown Atlanta.
Now the group hopes to revitalize a shopping center on Whitlock Avenue they say is blighted. Though some businesses do operate out of the Westpark Plaza, including Dave Poe’s BBQ, it has no anchor tenant and contains an almost empty parking lot.
“I, like everybody else, drive through that shopping center and it’s a huge eyesore,” Burke said.
The property was appraised for tax purposes at just less than $1.5 million in 2008 but by 2013 its value had fallen to $882,920, according to the Cobb County Tax Assessor’s website.
The owner of the center, built in 1987, is listed on the website as HHH Properties LLLP of Marietta.
The ownership of HHH is split between several individuals, Burke said, and he’s had no luck contacting the landlords.
“I have called, emailed, smoke signaled trying to get in touch with the property owners and have had no luck,” Burke said.
Many residents have wondered if a grocery store or restaurant could locate in the plaza, Burke said, but there hasn’t been an organized effort to lead redevelopment.
“Everybody and their mother has said, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great if there was a blank here,’” Burke said.
The group doesn’t have any specific ideas about what should go in the shopping center, but Burke says restaurants on the Barrett Parkway and Dallas Highway corridors stay filled and business could easily be brought
into the city of Marietta.
“I can’t believe that we can’t draw interest,” Burke said.
The group is made up of private individuals who do not own the shopping center they aim to improve and have little power, but Burke said its members can reach out into their personal networks laying the groundwork that could pique the interest of a developer.
Zach Poe, general manager of Dave Poe’s BBQ in the strip mall, is on board.
He said the shopping center could use more lighting at night, and if more people come to the plaza to shop, his restaurant could benefit.
“There’s so many people that drive by and say, ‘We’ve been driving by that shopping center for years and didn’t even know you were here,’” Poe said. “The whole area looks so empty.”
Maher said he knows the power of community involvement.
Before making his way to Marietta, Maher lived in the Candler Park neighborhood of Atlanta. Now its streets are lined with landscaped bungalows, but Maher said it was once crime ridden and home to several short-term rentals.
Maher banded together with his neighbors and began to slowly oust the neighborhood’s landlords, paving the way for revitalization.
West Marietta isn’t in that kind of dire need, he said, but still deserves attention. He hopes to landscape the shopping center and get permission to hold different community events in its parking lot to draw awareness.
“If people don’t get involved and start taking interest in their neighborhood, they could devolve into a situation that’s not so desirable,” Maher said.