In the News

New Visions for Early County  Article 11

The PlaceMakers' John M. Acken Jr. and Sr. developed a transportation study during the charette which provides insight into the area's transportation infrastructure. Their report includes 18 strategies for possible ways to utilize that infrastructure in the development of Early County's future.

The study begins with an overview of the region's transportation background which was reviewed in the June 28 Early County News. This week...

New Town of Bywater

Village & Museum This project includes a new community on the Banks of the Chattahoochee designed on the principles of New Urbanism and primarily directed at retirees and second home market. It would be located at the Fannie Askew Williams Park and would be adjacent to and complementary in style with an Early County historical village and museum.

The Village would include historical buildings brought in from around the county and reconstructed to provide a historical perspective for both private houses and commercial activities in the spirit of Williamsburg, Virginia including peanut and cotton farming and timber industry.

It would also feature a major exhibit of vintage railroad and marine equipment including relics from the Confederate Naval Yard. A short rail spur would run to the museum and provide a means for historic rail equipment to occasionally operate in excursion service.

The improved park would provide a local attraction for residents and tourists and the new community of Bywater would attract affluent retirees bringing money and increased employment to the county. It would also attract tourists and provide a significant increase in revenues and employment in the county.

Early county should seek state funds and involvement to improve the Fannie Askew Williams park. With state and county cooperation, organizers should found a new non profit corporation that would raise funds, renovate the abandoned buildings around the county, and improve infrastructure at the park. Edwards Rail car service would be occasionally operated between Blakely and the museum.

A new community could be developed next to the park which would complement the existing historic town. Also, Riverboat service could be added as an additional attraction.

Hot Air Balloons

South Georgia is uniquely suited to hot air balloons because of its rural landscape, low winds and flat geography. Other nearby cities which operate hot air balloons include Tallahassee, Augusta and Atlanta. Blakely could host a hot air balloon festival or simply offer rides in the summer. Because Blakely's downtown is so close to open fields, the balloon operations would attract tourists to Blakely's downtown. Photographs of the balloons over Blakely's downtown could also be used in advertising.


Recommendations Improve Pedestrian Experience in Downtown Blakely

Although it is impossible to force residents to stop using automobiles to travel around downtown, it is well understood under what conditions people will choose to walk. Blakely should encourage pedestrian traffic by planting street trees which will mature at least three stories in height to provide shade in the summer.

Buildings in the downtown should also be built with limited setbacks from the street to frame the streetscape. Retail should be required along Main Street in order to maintain pedestrian interest. Faade development grants to merchants would further enhance pedestrian experience.

Bicycle Cabbies

Blakely is unique in that its residential neighborhoods are still in very close proximity to downtown. The city of Blakely should purchase three person bicycle rickshaws which could be used as taxis around Blakely. The city could then lease the bikes to local high school students who could then start up businesses carrying residents in the evening from their homes in the outskirts into the city center for dinner and entertainment. Because of easy communication via cell phones, the entrepreneurs could take calls on the fly and operate the business from the bicycle seat. Although the bikes themselves would be relatively inexpensive, there must be adequate entertainment in the downtown area for the plan to be viable. Also research would have to be conducted to determine if there were drivers available who would be willing to use the bikes.

Improved Signs on Highway

One of the principle reasons sprawl develops along four lane roads is that business is attracted to the exposure produced by the high traffic counts. As part of the charrette process, the designers should consider options for designing commercial signs for the Bypass which will give businesses downtown the type of exposure they need. Such signs could be large display video monitors, signs that change to catch the attention of the driver or conventional billboards. The city and county could then purchase the signs and lease space to local businesses to advertise. Many residents may have reservations about billboards, therefore it will be necessary for the designers to take into account the rural heritage of the county and design the signs accordingly. Also, unless private businesses take the lead, the city and county would have to raise the funds in order to purchase the property and construct the signs. Transportation/Civic

Center and Hotel

The cornerstone of the Blakely transportation plan will be a transportation center located on the south west corner of the intersection of the railroad tracks and Main Street. The center will consist of three major components:

 Planters hotel and restaurant

 Parking garage and bus barn

 Visitors center, transportation depot

These three facilities will have interconnecting purposes and functions.

Planters hotel and restaurant. This facility would be located on the extreme east end of the center adjacent to Main street. Although modern and functional in all aspects, including meeting facilities with wireless internet capabilities, it would incorporate in three floors the charm and comfort of small hotels and inns located near train stations of the south one hundred years ago.

The restaurant will serve the "best peanut soup and fried chicken" in Georgia and is "the place to go" for after church brunch/dinner. The entire facility is decorated in the Edwardian style with a multitude of historical Blakely county photographs and artifacts. This facility would benefit by affiliation with a national hotel franchise or other organization.

Parking garage and bus barn: located on the west end of the center. This two story garage and bus barn will be designed to handle parking and serve as a storage facility for buses. Special attention shall be paid to avoid the mind numbing parking garage look by incorporating several small stores on the first floor e.g. souvenir shops, and restaurants as well as a police/sheriff substation.

Visitor center and transportation depot This will be located between and connect to both the hotel and parking garage. It will resemble a train station constructed around 1900 and will have a six rail car length platform facing the southern most Norfolk Southern yard track adjacent to the transportation center, (this track will have to be aquired from Norfolk southern) the center will feature tourist information provided by docents (perhaps attired in period costumes) who will sell tickets to various excursions and events in the county e.g. rail trips to historical village and museum and bus trips to the Kolomoki mounds.

It will be presented in such a way that will encourage people going to either the hotel or parking garage to pass through it. Space will be provided for this facility by relocating the existing sand, gravel, and concrete block company located south of the railroad tracks as well as demolishing several unoccupied warehouses. The center could also serve as office space for a county transportation coordinator.

Downtown Circulator

The goal for downtown Blakely should be for visitors to park once and be able to access all of downtown without having to use an automobile. The first step should be to develop one standard pedestrian shed which would encompass both the courthouse square and the new transportation/ civic center.

Once the shed has been fully developed, transit would have to be provided to expand the standard shed into a long ped shed would include the commercial development to the south as well as the high school and hospital. As bus service expands, park and ride facilities could be provided on the bypass with buses serving the city center.

There are many different types of transit vehicles currently available. Although many cities are re-introducing electric streetcars, they would be too urban for Blakely's rural nature. Instead we recommend introducing bus service once the first pedestrian shed has been developed. Some cities such as Chattanooga and Savannah have experimented with electric buses with mixed results. Another option is hybrid electric buses which become more economical as energy prices increase. Regardless of the technology, it is recommended that Blakely work with a transit corporation to modify buses so that they would remain in keeping with Blakely's early 20th century architectural heritage. Hybrid school bus service should also be considered. Horse Drawn Carriages

for Downtown Tourists

Once downtown Blakely begins to develop, one source of transportation which is well suited for Blakely's rural small town feel is horse drawn carriages. They could be used as a tourist attraction on weekends with very little start up capital. A logical origin point would be the visitors center.



In summary we hope these ideas as a whole convey the sense of importance that must be placed on transportation as a major component of community planning. Frequently, and regrettably it is not. For nearly the last 100 years, land transportation planning and highway planning have been synonymous - we often heard it used that way in the Early County 2055 public input sessions. The era of cheap energy is coming to an end and the time to change focus is at hand.

Coming soon: More comprehensive reports of the findings and visions developed during the charrette to help shape Early County's future.

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