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Decks hold key to parking fix
• Downtown Rome facilities get lighting and security upgrades.

Bill Collins

Becky Smyth

Craig McDaniel

Randy Quick

The parking decks in downtown Rome are a key element of the city's long-range parking plan, but debate this week showed many are still counting them out.

Mayor Bill Collins said he's hearing complaints that "people don't want their wives parking in a deck."

A number of others who spoke at the City Commission meeting Monday echoed his sentiments.

However, Becky Smyth, the Downtown Development parking services manager, said there's been a concerted effort to address those concerns since the parking plan was adopted in May 2018.

"The city and county have invested a lot over the past eight months in lighting and security," she noted.

The long-range plan is to convert the on-street spaces downtown to short-term paid slots and encourage the use of the parking decks by making those parking spaces free.

The district encompasses Broad Street between the South Broad bridge and Riverside Parkway — and a block deep on either side to include West First and East First streets.

The city launched Phase 1 on Monday. Street-side spots remain free but License Plate Recognition readers are now used for enforcement.

The goal is to gather data for about six months before moving to the final phase.

For now, parking is free at the Fourth Avenue deck after 5:30 p.m. on week nights and all day on Saturdays and Sundays. The deck is across the street from Jefferson's sidewalk cafe and the Floyd County Administration Building.

On weekdays, and at the other two decks, the first hour is free. It's $1 an hour after that, up to a maximum of $8 a day. The new Third Avenue deck is next to the Town Green and Forum River Center. The Sixth Avenue deck is on the City Auditorium side of the Joint Law Enforcement Building.

Smyth said the decks are now staffed and there are regular patrols, by police cars and officers on bicycles.

Floyd County also installed energy-saving LED lighting this spring, at the same time they did the State Mutual Stadium common areas. Facilities Manager Ryan Davis said there's a big increase in illumination — going from about half a foot-candle to 5-foot-candles in the decks on Fourth and Sixth avenues .

The light also has a whiter daylight cast, instead of the old yellow glow. But it's not readily apparent unless you're inside.

"The lights are on motion sensors," Smyth said. "As you go in, the light brightens. When you leave, the light dims."

Commissioner Craig McDaniel said he was initially critical about the reliance on the decks but there are good directional signs on Broad Street now and the facilities are much cleaner. Instead, he's been hearing complaints about on-street parking enforcement from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

McDaniel led the move Monday to cut the enforcement back to 6 p.m. and extend to three hours the amount of time each day that a vehicle could be parked on the street.

It's been set at two hours since 1998, to prevent employees from squatting in the prime spots. But the new LPR technology deployed Monday brought the limit to the forefront of the debate.

"If you have a business lunch and come back later for dinner with your wife, you will exceed the two hours," Commissioner Randy Quick said. "And those are two very innocent aspects: business and leisure."

The motion passed 5 to 2 on a first reading, with the final vote scheduled for the board's June 10 meeting.


Housing authority: Not enough landlords
• Participation in the housing choice program is about 10% below what HUD requires.

Sandra Hudson

A shortage of landlords who are willing to participate in a Section 8 Housing Choice program locally is approximately 10% behind what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wants for public housing agencies.

Northwest Georgia Housing Authority Executive Director Sandra Hudson told her board that HUD wants a 95% lease rate for housing vouchers allocated to the agency.

The authority is running at an 85% rate as of the end of April.

A lot of the problem involves the lack of landlords who want to participate in the program, Hudson said. The Heritage Pointe Apartments on Redmond Circle are no longer accepting Section 8 vouchers and a number of people who had been living there with federal assistance have had to be relocated.

Attorney Stewart Duggan told the authority a ruling in a Texas case had ruled in favor of landlords, supporting their argument that they were not violating the terms of fair housing laws by not participating in the program.

Hudson said she hopes that the Georgia Department of Community Affairs will open up 76 units in the old Willingham Village housing community off Brookwood Avenue in West Rome.

The authority is transferring funding from 66 units at Willingham to the Altoview Terrace community, which will be constructed at East 14th Street and Spring Creek Street, and 12 units to the Maple Avenue corridor.

Once HUD reaches an agreement with Willingham Village, the authority can own the property.

"We're going to go in and renovate all 76 units and utilize those for Section 8. We'll own them, we'll collect the rent and those will be non-federal dollars," Hudson said.

She said non-federal money can be used for anything from the children's academy to guarantees for new housing development.

The NWGHA will be getting a $460,000 grant from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program that will be used to build two additional one-bedroom duplex units in the area of Maple Avenue in East Rome. The authority plans to pour slabs and start framing on a couple of duplexes on East 12th Street next week.

The land for those homes was purchased with previous NSP funds.

Hudson also said she would try again to seek Choice Neighborhood planning grant funds for the East Rome area. It will be at least the third time Hudson and the NWGHA have sought the funds. An application in 2016 was rejected because of technical errors included in the application by an outside consultant. A followup application in 2017 was similarly not funded.

For that project $350,000 would be earmarked for planning to improve the neighborhood and $900,000 to do a specific project.

"We're not really sure what we're going to do," Hudson said.

Rome will once again partner with the housing authority in the application.


Digging at Chieftains Museum

Bluegrass returning for Memorial Day
• The yearly holiday-weekend event will feature local talent and players from all over the country.

For 37 years, bluegrass enthusiasts and players have gathered at Armuchee Music Park on Turkey Mountain Road to share their love of the genre with the Memorial Day Weekend Armuchee Bluegrass Festival.

"If they play they are welcome to bring their instruments," Helen Burke said. "Everyone accepts these folks like they have known them all their life."

Helen helps run the festival while her husband Jerry handles the campground, which is almost full she said. Thursday night will be the covered dish supper and the festival itself is scheduled to begin at 4:45 p.m. Friday evening.

The campground is filling up fast Helen said, so for those wishing to stay at the music park for the weekend, electric and water hookups for campers are $20 per night, while tent camping is $5 per night. To find out more about camping call 706-766-6352 or visit the festival's Facebook page.

The Armuchee Bluegrass Fiddlers will be kicking off the acts both on Friday and Saturday. The group is composed of local fiddle players and Helen said the group is open to any fiddle players in the area who wish to join them this weekend.

"We long for the day where we see that stage filled with Georgia fiddlers," she said.

On Saturday morning, music begins again at 10:45 a.m. A three-day pass is $21, while admission costs $10 on Friday and $12 on Saturday. The festival ends on Sunday with a 9:30 a.m. worship service.

After Sunday's service festival goers will pay tribute to Aina Jo Barnwell with a memorial service at 11 a.m. Barnwell was a member of Sprung Chickens, also known as The Next Band, and was an Atlanta resident who passed away while visiting her daughter in Texas. She was one of the first bands to play at the festival, Helen said. Instead of flowers donations can be made to the American Heart Association.


Sports tourism contributes $2.37M to economy
• Through the first four months of this year, sports tourism is 80% of total tourism economic impact for Rome and Floyd County.

Ann Hortman

The start of construction of the new indoor tennis courts at the Rome Tennis Center couldn't come at a better time for Ann Hortman, director of the Rome Sports Commission.

She told members of the Georgia's Rome Office of Tourism Board on Wednesday bidding for the next five years of NCAA regional and national events opens in August, and the indoor courts are necessary to bid for the tennis competitions.

BM&K construction and engineering moved its office trailer onsite Wednesday and has already started the process of taking down shade structures and nets on three of the existing courts that will become part of the new indoor complex.

That facility will be located on the northwest corner of the tennis center, using three existing courts with the addition of three new courts on a site that has already been rough-graded.

"They're going to work in and around tennis tournaments for the rest of the year, so there may be a lot of hand holding," said Rome City Manager Sammy Rich. He said the facility is expected to be completed by the end of January, well in advance of the April 2020 Atlantic Coast Conference tennis championships.

Hortman said she expects to begin working with both Shorter, a Division II member of the NCAA, as well as Berry, which competes in Division III.

Hortman also said she has had interest from the NAIA for future championship events in Rome.

Golf was also on Hortman's agenda for the meeting, telling the board that Rome's Stonebridge Golf Course will be the host for the Georgia Public Links Championships on Sept. 7-8.

She expects well over 100 golfers from all over Georgia to be in Rome for at least two nights during the event, and sponsorships for a variety of activities at the tournament are available to local businesses.

She also said the Ladies Professional Golf Association Symetra Tour, which is the developmental tour stars of the future, has expressed an interest in coming to the Rome area.

Sports-related tourism has contributed $2.37 million to the local economy through the first four months of the year.

That number represents approximately 80% of the total tourism economic impact through the first four months of the year.

The addition of the downtown welcome center on West First Street adjacent to the Town Green, coupled with the addition of the mobile welcome center, has spurred sales for gift merchandise through the tourism office. Sales are up 24 percent as compared to last year.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by Axel Camel Velasquez, a first-grader at Elm Street Elementary School.