Joe Kirby: Opening door to tall buildings on Marietta Square would be a towering mistake
by Joe Kirby
Columnist
October 17, 2010 12:00 AM | 1136 views | 9 9 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There are at least two perennial - you might even say "eternal" - stories when it comes to Marietta. The first is, "Should Whitlock Avenue be widened?" And the second is, "Should we allow tall buildings facing Marietta Square?"

Mariettans' answer to the first question, thus far, has always been "No."

Their answer to the second has not been nearly so clear cut.

And that question is back in the news again, thanks to Councilman Philip Goldstein's proposal to tear down the vintage 1924 Cuthbertson Building at the corner of North Park Square and Root Street. Goldstein, who is the council's most powerful member and who, with his family, is the biggest private property owner in downtown Marietta, wants to replace the two-story building with a five-story, 22,000-square-foot mixed-use building. He appears to have all the necessary clearances and permits - except one. He'll need the city's permission to close the streets at times that border three sides of the property during the demolition/construction process. With memories still fresh of the months-long disruption last winter and spring caused by the city's decision to replace the main water line around Marietta Square, I suspect there may be little appetite for a second helping of that dish.

Mayor Steve Tumlin has formed a committee to offer advice to the council about whether the city needs a height limitation for the Square.

I would say that's an excellent idea - and that one is needed.

Goldstein's planned building, in itself, would not be the end of the world if it were ever built. Its plans show an attractive building whose architecture echoes what's there now and probably would blend in well with its neighbors - except for its height. Even so, five stories would only be about one story taller than the Strand Theatre at the far end of North Park Square, and about the same height as the State Court Building on the east side of the Square.

But the bigger fear is that the new building would be the proverbial camel's nose in the tent. That is, it would set a precedent making it easier for Goldstein or some other landowner or developer to someday erect an eight- or 10-story building facing the Square.

Many of the merchants and landowners downtown think taller buildings will mean more customers and more tenants.

On the other hand, preservationists and those who enjoy the scale and look of the Square as it is want to keep it that way. Glover Park in Marietta Square is a one-of-a-kind place, with its arching trees, its fountain, its statue and its lush grass. It gives downtown a small-town, turn-of-the-century feel, especially on patriotic weekends when the Marietta Kiwanis Club and local merchants erect hundreds of U.S. flags within a block or so of the Square.

A eight- or 10-story building looming overhead would deaden that ambience and would keep part of the Square in a perpetual shadow.

Marietta was the focal point of Cobb commerce for well more than a century, but even so, it was a comparative backwater serving a cotton-based economy during those decades. There was never the money - or the demand - for tall buildings. Yesteryear's hard times had a silver lining, though, in that they removed much of the economic incentive for tearing down and replacing the bulk of the city's core. Thus, the Marietta Square of 2010 would be recognizable in many ways to the Mariettans of 1910, and vice versa. Mariettans have rarely been as bulldozer-happy as our neighbors just down the interstate in Atlanta have been.

The trick for our generation is to keep finding ways to protect the best of what's left from earlier days while at the same time enhancing and maximizing downtown's economic potential. Nobody wants to try to live and do business in a museum, after all.

There's no reason the council should not consider restricting building height. Such guidelines have been in place in Washington, D.C., for more than a century, and are used to protect the historic character and vistas of inner London and Paris as well. In Washington, those restrictions were put in place to keep the Capitol, White House and Washington Monument from being overwhelmed.

The mayor's task force, and ultimately the council, should keep in mind that their decisions - made with today's needs in mind - will have a huge impact on how the Square looks for the next century or longer. A five-or six-story clock tower or courthouse steeple is one thing; but a ring of five- to seven-story buildings, with a few even taller than that, would be something most Mariettans would soon regret.

It would be a towering mistake to let Marietta Square and Glover Park be overwhelmed in such a way.

Joe Kirby is Editorial Page editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and author of "The Bell Bomber Plant."
Comments
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mtown watcher
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October 19, 2010
The square needs a good scrubbing and the landowner ought to be the one doing it. But instead he writes the worst kinds of leases where the tenant is responsible for renovations, upkeep, taxes, etc and he just sits there and collects the money. The square could be so much more but never will be until somebody finds some way to get rid of "Mr. Potter". Don't see that happening since he keeps buying more, more, more. And the shopkeepers on the square have to be some of the biggest idiots of all time. They're generally closed on Sunday when there are big events and half of them are closed on Monday when every single person called to jury duty has an hour and a half to wander around at lunch time.
The Square
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October 18, 2010
To what r u scared of-I still do not understand how 4 square blocks of buildings can interfere with your live/work concept that you seem to think is needed to attract young people. High rises & new office buildings can be built one or more blocks off the Marietta Square. Just look at the one next to the Central Library. Most people who look at the Square wish the old courthouse had not been torn down. If you want to tear something down, tear down the Cobb gov't bldg with the gold windows, which took the place of the old courthouse.

Phipps Plaza is not a city or county seat like Marietta. There were no buildings there in the late 1800s & early 1900s that were used to conduct business for a county. Cotton was not sold on the property where Sak's is & Sherman did not burn an older Tiffany's building there.

If other people owned some of the buildings around the Square, rather than Goldstein, they would probably be in better condition. Definitely true of the Cuthbertson building. Goldstein doesn't improve anything to ATTRACT business. He has so much money, he just has to wait for someone to sign a lease or his latest strategy is to let the building fall apart and be condemned. That way he will be able to build something taller & newer.
what r u scared of
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October 18, 2010
To-the square,...what a totally absurd response to a rational intelligent suggestion that Cobb County needs to be more forward thinking & try to attract young proffesionals & new businesses, new ideas, greenspace, streetscapes & TRANSIT optopns!! Where in the world did you get in my post that I would think we should bulldoze ALL existing houses? HUH??

Marietta Square ,... to SURVIVE,... must build a live/work environment. It's that simple. To keep the square ALIVE,... you must see what it takes to SURVIVE in this economy! You do this by looking @ towns that ARE thriving & bringing in NEW business!! The nice glistening highrises looming over Phipps Plaza,... ALLOWS the folks in the RANCH style homes in surrounding neighborhoods to PROFIT on their investment, add MORE value to their homes & neighborhoods & generally have a HIGHER standard of living, BETTER schools for their CHILDREN & a better quality of LIFE! Ditto on Decatur Square-

when adding more options & lifestyles,... you ENHANCE & BETTER PRESERVE the OLDER neighborhoods. See Garden Hills neighborhood, off Peachtree or Ashford Park in Brookhaven. It stands to reason, that if Cobb doesn't change it's old way of thinking,... the older neighborhoods WILL become more poor & crime infested,... & YES,... @ THAT point,... the only solution would then be the bulldozer!

IS ANYONE THINKING in COBB????
otisbb
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October 17, 2010
Joe, again you have no vision. it's what the square can be, not what it is. the visionaries in this country had observations other couldn't see. especially columnists. get over the old building thing. let's build some new, old buildings. Lots of them. it's called progress.
otisbb
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October 17, 2010
good idea, let's form a committee. that will solve it.
The Square
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October 17, 2010
To highrise=value,

I did not know that what few buildings surround the Marietta Square on 4 sides could be so important as to cause a drop in value of all properties in Cobb county. Wow!

Using your logic we should methodically bulldoze all buildings & homes in Cobb county and start buildings very tall ones.

But back to reality, the Marietta Square can stay as something different to the rest of the county or metro area. Virginia Highlands in Atlanta is not the same as downtown Atlanta. It is done in every state in the U.S. & Europe. Everything does NOT have to be the same.
Richard K
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October 17, 2010
Agree with previous post. Dated and 60-s era ideology like this prohibit any sort of viable density needed to support a lifestyle and economy not so heavily dependent on the auto. I am very familiar with both Paris and London and both have buildings flanking parks and squares that average around 5-10 stories. Either way, 10 stories can hardly be called a 'tower'. This city (and country) need to get over our phobia of 'density' and embrace it where appropriate. Funny, we pay big bucks to vacation in the aforementioned cities and never once do we hear Americans coming back proclaiming it was "horrible and dense!".
tolerant
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October 17, 2010
Please leave Philip Goldstein alone! Marietta square is his toy, let him play with it, lest he have a tantrum and turn the whole place into a roller derby rink.
highrise = value
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October 17, 2010
The trend is TOD, or, transit oriented development, which include high density buildings w/ lofts, live-work & shoppes. Everything footsteps from your doorstep. This should include office towers & parks. People are tired of polluting & driving a car everytime they need to run an errand. Good public transport , to get you into the 'city' , (Atlanta, that is),... will also be an important factor for economic growth. If the city of Marietta wants to be in the game for future sustainability,(& that means growth & prosperity!!),.. people holding it back need to go retire somewhere out in the country,... and get out of the way!! This is NOT 1960 anymore,.. no matter how much you wish it to be so!Otherwise, Cobb property will continue to decline in value & NOT be able to attract new business!
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