Plans to expand downtown Rome across the Oostanaula River have been in the works for several years.
This past week, a consultant with more than passing knowledge of Rome, Bryan King, presented a conceptual plan that was generally well received by a crowd of maybe 50 to 60 people at the Courtyard Rome Riverwalk.
The key thing to keep in mind is the pitch was this past week was merely a concept, a starting point. His ideas were just something to kick off serious discussion on what they want to see happen along the West Third Street and North Fifth Avenue corridors.
The first part of the concept to jump off the white board, or wall of the conference room in the hotel, is the suggestion to narrow both streets to two-lane status. Both now have turn lanes as you approach the main intersection and the intersection with Avenue A.
Trimming the street to two through-lanes would accomplish a couple of objectives.
First, it would slow traffic down. The same traffic study revealed close to 20%, about one in every five drivers, was doing in excess of the 25 mph speed limit on North Fifth.
Second, narrowing the street would allow the city to widen the old, generally poor, sidewalks to about 15 feet — making them considerably more friendly to pedestrians and creating space to redevelop some of the buildings for potential restaurant use, complete with a sidewalk cafe.
Third, it would create additional parking. The concept plan would create 169 additional on-street parking spaces. And when you’re talking about downtown Rome, additional parking — regardless of which side of the Oostanaula River you’re on — is going to be well received.
Narrowing the street would include the Fifth Avenue Bridge. King is suggesting some sort of gateway signage welcoming folks to the River District in the area of the Law Enforcement Center.
Good idea and great idea.
My question though, from a technical standpoint, is how do you best narrow the street from four lanes down to two as you approach the bridge from Broad Street. Do you re-mark Fifth Avenue for two through lanes, with a single center turn lane to allow traffic coming toward Broad Street to make a right turn into the courthouse parking lot or a left turn onto West First Street at the Law Enforcement Center?
Traffic heading into the River District will also want to make a left turn into the courthouse lot and, without a turn lane, that could really back up in the morning hours.
I don’t think that is an insurmountable problem, but it is something to be considered.
During the meeting, I had one property owner who spoke with me as an acquaintance, not a reporter, who was concerned about the city seeking to force some of the owners to redevelop their property.
My response was the city would certainly hope some of the buildings that are in less than desirable condition will be redeveloped, but nobody could force them to do anything. I also said that some of the buildings, while old, certainly add to the charm of Rome’s downtown district and would continue to add charm even as some of the property around them gets redeveloped.
That is going to happen. Some of those old buildings are going to get a facelift. I don’t know who is going to do it, but you can take it to the bank that it is going to happen.
Some of them desperately need a facelift.
I compare our River District to the Granville Island section of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Granville Island is an older section of Vancouver that has been completely made over. Old warehousing buildings now house year-round farmers markets, craft shops — I’m talking your basic tourist trap here.
I know Vancouver gets a lot more traffic than Rome, but the district is also smaller. Wouldn’t a year-round market work well in one of those old, long, narrow buildings behind the levee?
Roy Echols, who owns five buildings and a vacant lot, said he thinks a return to brick streets (cobblestone-like) would look good over there, and I think that’s an awesome idea.
It might be a little expensive but the alley that runs off North Fifth Avenue and loops all the way around to West Third Street could be bricked for pedestrian only traffic. North Fourth Avenue from the levee to West Third Street could be bricked and marked pedestrian only as well.
Redevelopment in the River District is not going to happen as fast as some folks would like to see. What happens to the city’s two-acre lot next to the Courtyard Rome Riverwalk may be a factor, but one proposal there fell through and it seems possible that a second proposal also might fall by the wayside.
Keep in mind there’s no point in being in a hurry. The community has a marvelous chance to get this right and we should take our time to get it right the first time.