Gateway Village making strides

By Justin Boron

The uninformed driver speeds through the northern city limits of Morrow and sees a pile of dirt on Jonesboro Road.

But the development officials responsible for the completed portions of the Gateway Village project can already see four and five story buildings filled with hotel rooms, lofts, restaurants, shops, and alternative transit options in the undeveloped tracts of land.

A tour Tuesday that recapped five years and $160 million of work highlighted the project's successes in establishing a location for the Southeast unit of the National Archives.

Project leaders anticipate the archives will become a magnet for future private development and tourism that would capitalize on the commuter rail planned to begin service in the fall of 2006 and Clayton College & State University, where 16,000 students study annually right next door.

Because it is already there, few question the college's economic draw.

But the rail, which has faced more than a decade of discussion, is not so certain of an economic engine.

Even still, those planning for service in 2006 say little is left to do.

Negotiations with Norfolk Southern, the owner of the rail, are ongoing, said County Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer.

All that remains for the company to decide is whether they will operate the rail, he said.

Dana Lemon, a regional representative at the Georgia Department of Transportation, also tried to minimize the volume of a faction of Hampton residents who are vocally opposed to the rail heading through their city.

"Those supportive of it don't always speak as loudly as those opposed to it," she said.

With the federal archives set to open in stages over the next three months and transit officials sure about the rail, what is most important for project leaders is emphasizing that high-end lofts and office space, traditionally suited for intown Atlanta, can be accomplished in this area.

"It can be done in Morrow. It can be done in Clayton County. It and be done on the Southside," said Grant Wainscott, the director of economic development for Morrow. "The entire Southern Crescent can hang their hat on this kind of project."

Three of the major goals in the half billion dollar project have been completed.

The State of Georgia Archives, a 850-bed student housing development, and the National Archives, which will host partial opening this Friday, all have been finished.

Still to come is a 150-room, Hilton hotel and conference center across the street from the archives.

The hotel is scheduled to break ground as early as this summer. The county government is in the process of adding additional bond money to the project.

Planned south of the archive facilities is a commuter rail parking deck that could eventually be as high as eight stories, said Chuck Warbington, for Pond and Co., which will develop the deck.

There are also plans to combine the Morrow rail station with a mixed use building along the rail, Wainscott said.

While the project will urbanize much of the area, a stream restoration project to the west will eventually have golf cart paths for walking and bike riding.

Three miles of pathways will run along side the restored Jester's Creek, Wainscott said.

One of the final pieces of the development puzzle will be filled in by a post office expected for 2008, he said.