Lakewood/Metropolitan plan spurs hope that this time is different

Film industry is seen as the catalyst for revitalization of depressed areas
Screen Gems: Savior of Lakewood area?

EUE Screen Gems

Beginning next week, the residents of Capitol View, Sylvan Hills, Lakewood Heights, and other Southeast Atlanta neighborhoods will get a chance to review the latest proposal to fix a long-neglected part of town.

Actually, many residents have already spent several months providing input to help the Atlanta Regional Commission, local officials, and various urban planners develop the Lakewood LCI, or Livable Centers Initiative. The new plan encompasses some of the more downtrodden sections of the city, including Metropolitan Parkway–formerly the notorious Stewart Avenue–and the neighborhoods along Jonesboro Road. At the plan’s final public hearing, held late last month at the nearby Atlanta Technical College, neighborhood interest was so keen that the discussion lasted a full hour longer than scheduled.

For some old-timers, the project can’t help but inspire feelings of déjà vu. Over the last decade or so, similar processes have churned out a shelf-full of hope-filled planning documents: the Jonesboro Road Corridor Study, the Lakewood Heights Blueprint, the Metropolitan Parkway Redevelopment Plan, and even a previous ARC-backed effort, the Oakland City/Lakewood LCI.

Although none of those plans came to fruition, planners and neighbors alike believe this time will be different. For Randy Veal, president of the Lakewood Heights Community Association, his optimism can be boiled down to one simple fact. As Veal puts it, “Screen Gems is just begging for a Starbucks.”

Everyone involved in the LCI seems to agree that the presence of the EUE/Screen Gems, the bustling film- and TV-production facility on the grounds of the former Lakewood Fairgrounds is the game-changer, a catalyst that will elevate the surrounding areas.

“The film industry needs additional support services nearby,” explains Contente Terry, a planning consultant tasked with overseeing community outreach during the drafting of the LCI. For instance, says Veal, set-builders working at the Screen Gems campus now have to make runs to the nearest Home Depot in Forest Park to buy lumber and supplies. Yet, across I-75/85, a mere two minutes from the studio’s front gate, sits the dilapidated Crossroads Shopping Center, twenty-six largely vacant acres of commercial space on Metropolitan that could easily accommodate a hardware store and other amenities.

It’s just a matter of time until private developers and retailers capitalize on the growing market–fueled by highly paid film-production workers–in the Metropolitan/Lakewood area.

That’s where the LCI comes in. While Terry concedes there have been a number of such plans around metro Atlanta that have gone unrealized, she points out that the first, necessary step in an area’s recovery is the adoption of a comprehensive blueprint for future growth. Without that, she explains, cities and other jurisdictions can’t apply for federal funding to help with revitalization efforts.

“Infrastructure improvement funding for road repairs, streetscaping and other changes doesn’t come until the LCI is finished, and that’s what developers are looking for,” Terry says.

Although a national real-estate website recently named the Lakewood area among the top ten “most dangerous neighborhoods” in the country, Terry says Atlanta Police statistics actually show that crime is dropping in the area, and the planned relocation of the Zone 3 headquarters from Grant Park to Metropolitan Parkway is likely to further this trend.

“Developers are wary of crime, so that news will help,” she says.

As for the Lakewood Heights commercial node, a small cluster of nicely preserved storefronts around the intersection of Jonesboro Road and Lakewood Avenue a mile or so northeast of Screen Gems, things have already taken a small turn for the better, with new sidewalks and landscaping recently completed by the city. An earlier revitalization plan conducted for that area was simply adopted into the language of the new LCI, Terry says.

Terry and other planners will formally present the finalized LCI to the three affected neighborhood planning units, beginning Monday for NPU X and continuing the next two weeks for NPUs Y and Z. The NPUs will vote on whether to support the plan at their June meetings, and the measure will go before the Atlanta City Council for final adoption in September.

To read the full LCI document, click on this PDF.