published Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Vacant LaFayette buildings eyed for rebirth

  • photo
    People walk on the sidewalks on the square in LaFayette, Ga.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- The Summerville Special is a vintage Tennessee Valley Railroad train that makes fall excursions from Chattanooga to Summerville, Ga. -- and rolls right through LaFayette.

"They go on through, because there's nowhere to stop," LaFayette City Councilman Chris Davis said.

Davis wants to give the steam locomotive a reason to stop.

He'd like to see the rebirth of a strip of vacant commercial buildings alongside the railroad track. The strip is anchored by the Mars Theater, which was gutted last year by a fire.

"We'd love to see boutique shops, antique shops -- a destination," Davis said. "We're exploring the purchase of the property."

He added, "The buildings that didn't burn are in decent shape."

Davis envisions LaFayette's Downtown Development Authority buying the property for resale to a developer.

"The city doesn't need to be in the landlord business," he said.

The development authority is holding a special meeting at 1 p.m. Monday in the Bank of LaFayette Community Room. Guest speaker Alan Dickerson of the Georgia Municipal Association will discuss low-interest state loans and federal grants that LaFayette might use to buy the strip of buildings.

"The property would have to be declared slum and blight," in order to be eligible for federal Community Development Block Grant funds, Dickerson said.

At one time, the strip of businesses was thriving, Davis said. His stepfather worked at a five-and-dime there.

"I really care about that side of town," Davis said. "It's always been referred to as 'the other side of the tracks.' That [sentiment] needs to go away."

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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