This architectural rendering shows the City of Lovejoy's $3-million public safety facility. Once complete, the building will house the city's police department, city hall and municipal court.
By Joel Hall
More than 100 residents attended a town hall meeting at the Lovejoy Community Center on Thursday night, in which the mayor and council members laid out their plans for a new neighborhood- and business-watch program, a new public safety facility, and a new open-air market.
Much of the discussion centered on economic development and public safety improvements. "We've accomplished a lot things in Lovejoy in the last 12 months," said Mayor Joe Murphy. "We've got a lot of things that are being looked at now, and a lot more things we want to add and move on forward with. We've got an URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) in place, which is going to research the redevelopment of the center of downtown.
"We bought the community center," he said. "We own it now, we don't rent it anymore. We were paying $10,000 a month in rent. It was a major purchase for the city, but in the long term, we believe it will pay off."
Earlier this year, the city spent approximately $4 million purchasing many of the properties in the downtown area, including: The building housing the Lovejoy Community Center, located at 11621 Hastings Bridge Road; the "Pies on Pizza" strip mall, and an adjoining daycare center; two truck parking lots on Hastings Bridge Road; and a vacant property next to the Lovejoy Community Center, containing a retention pond.
According to Murphy, the city is currently developing the retention pond into a recreation park, which will eventually be called "The Mayor's Park." In January, next door to the Lovejoy Community Center, the city is planning to begin constructing the Lovejoy Open Air Market, an outdoor marketplace, which will include restroom facilities and covered stalls, that vendors will be able rent, and use to sell various goods.
"We're going to revitalize downtown and bring the people back downtown," Murphy said. "Hopefully, if we can bring the people back, the business will come, and you will see the inner part of the city come back. You will continue to see development on Tara Boulevard, but we want to see the inner part of the city [prosper]. If we get them in here, they may see something they like and want to stay."
The Lovejoy Public Safety Facility, currently under construction, will be completed and occupied by spring of next year, according to city officials. The city plans to eventually use the $3 million facility to house a new police department, a city court, and a new city hall complex.
Lovejoy Councilman Bobby Cartwright said he has taken the lead on the public safety portion of the project, following the departure of Lovejoy Police Chief Darrell Partain. A former Clayton County police chief, Partain was hired by Lovejoy on Nov. 1 of last year to create a police department for the city.
Cartwright said that by next year, the city will seek to hire nine to 15 full-time officers. The current Lovejoy Police Department consists of one full-time assistant chief and 25 part-time officers contracted from the Clayton County Police Department.
"He [Partain] was on a [one] year contract and he fulfilled that contract and moved on," Cartwright said. "We will probably look at a base of 9 to 15 officers. That's almost minimal, because you have to have patrolmen, supervisors, and staff. We're still going to utilize some of our part-time services," while the department grows, he said.
Cartwright added that the city is in the process of applying for a $180,000, non-matching grant from the Atlanta Regional Commissioner to add to the public safety facility. If successful, the city will use the grant to build an amphitheater, he said.
Starting in January, Lovejoy will begin its Neighborhood and Business Watch Program.
According to Assistant Police Chief Mark Harris, the city will begin assigning neighborhood watch captains for each of the city's nearly 20 neighborhoods. In addition to helping patrol neighborhoods, the city will meet with residents and discuss ways to prevent crime, such as writing down the serial numbers of any important property, which would help identify it, if it were stolen and recovered.
"It will improve citizen and community safety and it will help you become proactive instead of reactive," Harris said. "I think working together, we can get something done."
Clyde Morse, a Lovejoy resident for eight years, was one of a number of people in attendance. He believes the meeting was "something long overdue."
"I don't care what people say, but you are your brother's keeper," Morse said. "I definitely feel like it was a very big turnout and it went very well. I think they covered a lot of things. We've been [organizing neighborhood groups] amongst ourselves for a long time, but other people need to pick up and do the same thing, because it has paid off at our little corner."
Serena Winfree, a resident for six years, said she has attended city meetings for years and that Thursday's meeting had the largest attendance. "It was great," Winfree said. "It's important for everybody to get together and make [Lovejoy] a better place to live."
Murphy said Thursday was the first time the city had held a town hall meeting of that magnitude. He said he would like to do more things in the future to engage and inform the community. "When you live in a city and you have a major election and 300 people turn out, and [then] you get a town hall meeting and you get half of your voting population [to come out], you have to write that up as success," Murphy said. "I feel like I work [for] everyone of these people everyday. I want to hear their opinions, I want to hear their problems, and I want to do everything I can."