Keri Stevens said she regrets the fact that they don’t really make buildings the way they used to. She said she admires classic Atlanta structures like the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills in the Cabbagetown neighborhood. When an F2 tornado tore through the city in 2008, causing more than $250 million in damage, the factory building – nearly 150 years old and recently converted into lofts–stood strong, sustaining significant damage but remaining mostly intact.
It’s that sort of appreciation for history and stability that’s helped guide Stevens through a decade-long career in city planning and preservation.
“You have to look at your past to look at your future,” she said.
Stevens is Avondale Estates’ first city planner. She joined the city July 13 and will work to update its comprehensive plan while searching for new ways to enliven and rejuvenate its classic Tudor-stlye village downtown area. The city has expressed an interest in becoming more pedestrian-friendly for residents as well.
Since receiving a master’s in architectural history from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2000, Stevens has worked in a number of positions, advising municipalities such as Roswell, Johns Creek and Griffin in their planning. She last worked for Pond & Co., an Atlanta architectural and engineering consulting firm, but she spent the majority of her career –about seven years–in Roswell, focusing mostly on the city’s historic district.
She said her favorite project was the cleanup of a historic building in the city called the “Machine Shop,” built in 1853, paid for with a state grant that will allow the building to be easily developed in the future.
“It’s a great building. It has some of the original machinery,” she said.
In Avondale Estates, luring complementary businesses to the city’s downtown area will be a focus, and Stevens said a good way to begin that work will be corralling accurate demographic data for prospective business owners or businesses interested in relocating to the city. Those people should have a clearer vision of city residents’ spending habits, ages and other relevant data, including the fact that the median income in Avondale Estates is higher than that of surrounding jurisdictions.
The city could also reinforce its reputation as a historic city and lure more tourism dollars.
“Historic cities are becoming more and more popular,” she said.
Looking next door to a city like Decatur could also be beneficial, she said. The county’s seat has done particularly well accomplishing what Avondale Estates hopes to do.
“I know Avondale really wants to get back to that more pedestrian-friendly type of community,” she said. “It’s already set up that way. It’s very good.”