The Town Center Community Improvement District and Town Center Community Alliance are helping to shape our county’s future.
By Jennifer Morrell
If society has taught us anything, particularly through the pandemic, it’s that “stronger together” is a concept worth adopting. The Town Center Community Improvement District (TCCID) is a shining example of a robust CID in action, especially when joining forces with the Town Center Alliance (the Alliance), resulting in an enhanced level of success.
The role of a CID is to identify and fund projects such as infrastructure improvements and “quality of life” developments that enhance property values within the district. A quality of life project can vary from greenspace and parks to public art and bikeshare. These types of endeavors typically use infrastructure and public space to provide a sense of “place” and opportunities to enjoy the environment, recreation, education, culture and community programming.
CIDs are funded by an additional, voluntary property tax on commercial properties within a specific district. In Town Center, 275 property owners with nearly 500 parcels generate approximately $3.7 million annually that goes back into the community. The TCCID employs five full-time staff members who work for both the district and the Alliance.
The Alliance is funded through a variety of private, corporate, and foundation supporters by way of memberships, grants, and major gifts. It is a tool in the toolbox of the TCCID with a proven track record of success.
Stronger together: TCCID and the Alliance
Since its inception in 1997, the TCCID has worked to identify and invest in projects for beautification, recreation, greenspace, and other general community enhancements. These include gateway markers, trails and a bikeshare program, all with the goal of improving the environment and quality of life for the Town Center community.
“In 2015, the TCCID created the Town Center Alliance, a nonprofit organization to partner for creative placemaking programs,” says Tracy Styf, TCCID’s executive director. “The collaboration allows engagement of a broader community and an increased investment in quality of life projects. The partnership and structure are unique, since not all CIDs have a nonprofit creative placemaking entity.”
The Alliance is designed to take a strategic look at creative placemaking elements that will help the TCCID reach its vision of becoming one of the most accessible, prosperous, and exciting areas in metro Atlanta. While the TCCID primarily builds roads, trails, sidewalks, and bike lanes, the Alliance finds ways to celebrate the unique character of Town Center.
“From public art and aesthetic fixtures that inspire and engage, to small parks that protect and conserve, the Alliance invests in projects that enhance the quality of life in the Town Center area,” says Jennifer Hogan, director of the Alliance. “By activating the physical and social environment in Town Center, the Alliance helps attract businesses and residents, boost economic development, and shape a sense of community. The Alliance team enlists the public, community partners, and corporate sponsors to fully fund and develop these projects.”
A good example of how the TCCID and Alliance worked in tandem to create and activate public spaces is Aviation Park. This three-acre, aviation-themed public space is adjacent to the Cobb County International Airport runway. It lies midpoint along the Noonday Creek Trail and offers amenities such as a 60-space parking lot, water fountain for people and pets, open green space, STEM playground, airplane-shaped climbing structure, pavilion, and a restroom facility designed to replicate the nearby airport control tower. The three-acre park was funded and constructed by the TCCID and then turned over to Cobb County upon completion in 2017. Since then, the Alliance has funded and installed educational exhibits and added programming, such as Yoga in the Park.
“It is because of this unique partnership that the TCCID and Alliance can create more of these hallmark recreation areas within a region traditionally known more for its office, industrial, and retail,” says Styf. “These types of projects are important because they improve the quality of life of the entire region.”
Bringing projects to fruition
The TCCID and the Alliance are separate legal entities, and each is governed by a separate board. While the two collaborate and work on projects in tandem, specific projects and budgets are determined by each board, respectively. Both boards use the extensive planning efforts for projects based on the various master, activation, and strategic plans conducted during the last few years. Styf says the TCCID does master planning for the district every three to five years, working with Cobb County, commercial stakeholders, and the broader community to study demographic and economic shifts. The district collects market data as well as data on fiscal impact, traffic, and infrastructure needs.
“We take the results of the master plan, along with the Cobb’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan and Comprehensive Development Plan, to prioritize projects in the greatest areas of need within the district,” Styf says. “Projects are funded initially with CID dollars for concept and preliminary engineering, and then we work with our county, state, and federal partners to secure the remaining project funds and move it through construction.”
Why placemaking matters
By definition, effective placemaking increases the quality of life for residents, commuters, and visitors, and it raises the value of surrounding properties. This creative method of collaboration shapes the physical and social character of a region through arts, culture, and other quality of life enhancements.
“Since 2015, the Alliance has worked to secure funding for the improvement of the Town Center region,” says Hogan, “by investing in projects that enhance the quality of life in the Town Center area, such as parks and greenspace to conserve and protect the environment. Examples include Aviation Park, public art and activation that inspires the community, and programs that actively engage people of all ages.”
Placemaking is creating places where people want to be — public spaces that engage the community and are activated in a way such that everyone wants to use them. A recent example of how the Alliance has invested in TCCID infrastructure projects bringing additional amenities for visitors and residents is the Noonday Creek Trail, one of the most popular amenities in Town Center. Using the existing infrastructure established by the TCCID, the Alliance adopted an activation plan to adorn the seven miles of trail in the district with public art, programming, and creative wayfinding to elevate the trail user experience.
Sharing best CID practices
Styf says that with more than 30 CIDs in the metro Atlanta area, they often collaborate with other CIDs to educate and inform communities about collective efforts and the work inside of the districts. “I meet regularly with other executive directors to share ideas and best practices, working on issues that impact each of us, such as ensuring funding at the state and federal levels,” she says. “There’s so much we share and have learned together throughout the years. Right now, much of our discussions are centered around technology and mobility. We are also working locally with the other Cobb CIDs to connect bikeshare throughout the region.”
A number of the metro Atlanta CIDs are working with the Georgia Department of Transportation and their local transportation departments on the Connected Vehicle program. This technology will link more than 1,000 intersections across the region, enabling cars, trucks, and buses to “talk” to each other and share safety and mobility information. The data is then used for transit signal priorities, signal preemption for emergency vehicles and assuring sufficient pedestrian intervals at crosswalks.
The Noonday Creek Trail is a 10- to 12-foot wide, multimodal, hard-surface bike path that runs through the Town Center district, connecting the district’s destinations and parks. It begins at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park Visitor’s Center and heads east to the Bells Ferry Trailhead, winding along the creek through forested areas, under highway overpasses, and along roadsides.
The idea of a bike trail emerged in 2000 and took 12 years to complete. What was once underutilized greenspace is now useful infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation and recreation were created.
“The multi-use trail has made Town Center a competitive urban district by enhancing aesthetics, recreation, and connectivity throughout the area,” says Tracy Styf, Town Center CID’s executive director. “This infrastructure is functional as well as attractive. It links to several other trails in Cobb County’s 84-mile trail network, and it improves environmental conditions by protecting the creek.”
More than 200 proposed or planned miles of trail have been identified and are included in the Cobb Greenway and Trail Masterplan. These planned trail connections will continue north into Cherokee County and to the south to the Beltline and Silver Comet Trail.
Outdoor spaces like these were especially important during the pandemic, giving people places to exercise and safely gather in small groups, says Jennifer Hogan, Town Center’s Community Alliance director. “During the pandemic, we saw evidence of increased usage of the trails, via our trail counters, at times of the day and week that, pre-pandemic, were not high-volume hours. This data could indicate that while people were working from home or homeschooling during the week, they were also utilizing the trails and parks at different times of the day and augmenting their daily schedules with time outdoors.”
Hogan says even outside of a pandemic setting, parks and trails are widely considered to be important for health and wellness, giving people options for reducing anxiety, stress, and depression.
Also of value is the potential for reduction in local traffic and the use of the trail as a transportation alternative. Data collected on the Town Center bikeshare program in early 2020, just before the pandemic, showed that since the program launched in November 2015, more than 50,000 rides totaling more than 25,000 hours with a median trip distance of 1.87 miles were taken. Hogan says this would equate to a reduction of 11,000 pounds in CO2 emissions or elimination of over 12,000 auto trips.
Successful TCCID Projects
South Barrett Reliever
The South Barrett Reliever is a road realignment project to give drivers an alternate route around Barrett Parkway, one of the busiest corridors in Town Center. In Phase 3, the $33.5M roadway will continue from where Phase 2 ended, then reach across I-75 and the Managed Lanes and extend to Barrett Parkway via Roberts Court. This project won the 2018 Georgia Partnership for Transportation Quality Preconstruction Design Award for Traffic Safety and Intersection Design for Phase II.
Skip Spann Connector
The Skip Spann Connector created a four-lane road and 10-foot-wide, multi-use path over I-75, realigning Townpark Lane into a roundabout at Busbee Drive. Its most striking feature is the lighted bridge design that reflects the iconic shape of Kennesaw Mountain. This project won the 2017 American Society of Highway Engineers National Project of the Year; the 2017 American Council of Engineering Companies Georgia Engineering Excellence Award, Transportation category; and the 2016 Georgia Partnership for Transportation Quality Preconstruction Design Award.
Bells Ferry Trailhead
The Bells Ferry Trailhead is the district’s easternmost point of the Noonday Creek Trail. In 2017, the area was updated to provide trail-friendly amenities, such as a restroom, parking lot, trash receptacles, bikeshare station, benches, lighting, landscaping, and water fountains for people and pets.
Town Center Bikeshare Program
The TCCID is committed to bringing cycling to the forefront of mobility and providing recreation options in the district. In 2020, the bikeshare saw 17,115 active members, 229 trips per week and 50,731 total rides. In 2016, the program was winner of 2016 CREATE Community Award.
The vision behind the park was to engage visitors in a beautiful open environment and provide much-needed amenities along the Noonday Creek Trail. The space near the end of the runway at the Cobb County International Airport led to the park theme.
Noonday Creek Trail
The Noonday Creek Trail is a 10- to 12-foot-wide, hard-surface path that runs through Town Center, connecting the district’s destinations and parks.
Busbee Trail is a shared-use path running 0.5 miles along the western side of Busbee Drive.
Big Shanty Connector
The Big Shanty Connector is a four-lane roadway that spans nearly two miles, from Chastain Road, heading east under I-75 and the Managed Lanes to Chastain Meadows Parkway.
Noonday Creek Chimney Swift Tower
In 2020, the Georgia Audubon and the Town Center Community Alliance partnered to install a 12-foot chimney swift tower along the Noonday Creek Trail.