Hundreds of sprigs of grass are pushing through the pavement at Doraville’s 165-acre General Motors complex, vacant for two and a half years.
Now, the Doraville City Council is considering a master plan that would turn the former automobile assembly plant into a mixed-used development with office buildings, shopping, greenspace and access to a light rail.
“The city would continue to be a key cog in the economic development of the region,” said Luke Howe, the assistant to Doraville’s mayor. “GM sustained the city for 60 years. Now, we’re looking for another economic engine to sustain us for the next 60-70 years.”
Under a low-to-medium density plan, the GM site would have office buildings up to five stories tall. Another plan calls for a high-density development with buildings 10-15 stories high.
Depending on which scenario is implemented, the development could create between 3,000 and 20,000 jobs, Howe said. Doraville wants to attract science, digital media and health care jobs to the region.
“What’s good for Doraville is good for the county and the state,” Howe said.
Since its incorporation 140 years ago, Doraville grew from an agricultural town to an industrial city that supplied jobs for thousands. Now, it is a city struggling to regain its identity as a job hub for metropolitan Atlanta.
“This will help repair the fabric of the city,” Howe said.
Before GM came to Doraville, Buford Highway was a four-lane road with streetscaping. Now it has seven lanes and is not safe for walking and biking, Howe said. And Doraville has no town center.
“Doraville is a city that just happened,” Howe said. “It was never planned. We have to retrofit Doraville into a more traditional town.”
To create improved access to the GM site, city planners want to connect Peachtree Industrial with Buford Highway with a bridge or tunnel. The city is planning to include these transportation ideas on a list of proposed projects it submits to the Georgia Department of Transportation to be considered for a referendum next year.
Last year, Georgia’s legislature enacted the Transportation Investment Act, which provides for a regional referendum in 2012 in which Atlanta metropolitan voters will be able to vote on a penny sales tax to fund various transportation projects.
Since the GM plant closed in 2008, it has been a subject of development talks. In October 2009, the Doraville City Council voted down a proposal to construct a new Atlanta Falcons’ stadium on the site.
Four months later, Florida-based New Broad Street Companies announced that it was in negotiations to purchase the site from GM for a mixed-use development. In June 2010, the deal fell through when GM did not extend a deadline for New Broad Street to secure its funding.
In August 2010, the DeKalb County Commission rejected a proposal for a $60 million project that would have split the property between the county and New Broad Street. The county’s $35 million portion would have been paid with federal stimulus bonds.
During a trip to Washington, D.C., last month, DeKalb Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis met with federal leaders to discuss funding options for the GM redevelopment.
The Doraville City Council is expected to vote on the master plan in its March 21 meeting.