Parking spaces along the Fifth Avenue bridge and a community park in place of the tennis courts are two elements of a proposed development plan for Rome's new River District.
"We looked at how you create a district that's walkable," said Adam Williamson, a principal planner and landscape architect with TSW. "Anybody can do a more suburban district: (put in) a Burger King and it's there. This will be an extension of your downtown."
The draft plan presented to the Rome City Commission this week covers the area across the Oostanaula River from the Broad Street downtown district.
While focused on revitalizing West Third Street and Fifth Avenue, it takes in the whole area between the river and Turner McCall Boulevard — from Second Avenue on the west to Avenue A and Bale Street on the east.
Williamson and Jim Watson with Nelson Nygaard Consulting have drawn up a mixed-use scenario that features affordable townhomes, residences above street-level retail, new multistory commercial and office buildings and historic homes repurposed as shops. It also includes bicycle and pedestrian connections to existing trails.
The Fifth Avenue bridge makeover, with streetscaping, would calm traffic and make it safer for pedestrians. The central park would provide a gathering place.
"If you want people to live in this kind of density, you need to have some greenspace," said Watson, adding that it could draw food trucks and festivals and even tailgating parties for Barron Stadium games.
Commissioners indicated general support for the design, although Mayor Jamie Doss expressed some reservations about replacing the tennis courts with a park.
"That's an extremely valuable piece of property. Maybe too valuable for a park," Doss said.
The plan was developed over several months with input from property owners and other stakeholders. Rome-Floyd Planning Director Artagus Newell is reviewing the draft with an eye to incorporating comments into the final recommendations.
Newell noted that most of the property is privately owned. The city's role would be to encourage the development scenario with tools such as zoning and infrastructure improvements. The 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax package contains $2 million for work in the district.
"You could really start to enhance the aesthetics in that area," he told the board. "Business owners want it to be a shop-and-walk district, safer and more inviting."
Newell said the recommendations also could be written into the Rome-Floyd Unified Land Development Code that is due for a complete overhaul in the coming year.
The plan would serve as a guideline for development over a number of years.
"We want to lay the groundwork for a more pedestrian-friendly, humanscale area but let private development take its own course," Newell said.