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Officials want genealogy industry near archives

By Curt Yeomans

A movement is afoot to transform Clayton County's long-dormant Gateway Village development project in Morrow into ground zero for genealogical research, and family reunion-related tourism.

Planning is underway to develop Gateway Village, using family-oriented businesses, including hotels that cater to families who want to have genealogical-research-themed family reunions, according to Clayton County Economic Development Director Grant Wainscott.

He said examples of the businesses he wants to attract include a hotel with ample meeting space, T-shirt shops (to make the reunion T-shirts), and picture-frame shops (to frame copies of documents from the nearby archives). The proposal is a drastic change in direction for a project that once was earmarked for office space and unspecified businesses.

The reason for this new focus, Wainscott said, is the two large buildings that sit across the street from the undeveloped portion of Gateway Village -- the Georgia Archives, and the National Archives at Atlanta.

"The expanded thought here is to create a center for genealogical research and family-reunion tourism," Wainscott said. He later added, "The goal is to figure out how to build on the presence of the archives, and leverage those resources to attract new businesses to this area."

All of it would be aimed at getting families to come to Clayton County, to hold their family reunions at the national or Georgia archives, where they can have a meal, and then look up documents on their family's history, according to Wainscott.

And, it all actually plays directly into an effort that has been underway at the National Archives at Atlanta for several years, to encourage more families to hold reunions at the archives.

National Archives at Atlanta Regional Director Jim McSweeney said the archives has been trying to increase the number of professional meetings, corporate events, and family reunions it hosts, since 2006.

"We have exceeded our expectations with respect to hosting community events and professional activities," McSweeney said. "However, the same cannot be said for family reunions ... The family reunion industry is huge in Atlanta. The National Archives at Atlanta should be a part of any such plans."

Wainscott calls the arrival of the archives facilities in Morrow, more than five years ago, a "game changer" in the development of Gateway Village. The Georgia Archives opened in 2003, and the National Archives at Atlanta followed suit in 2005. Morrow is one of the few places in the country -- if not the only place -- where a state archives, and national archives, are located next door to each other, Wainscott said. He added, however, Gateway Village was originally planned to just be buildings with office space along Ga. Hwy. 54, near Clayton State University, also in Morrow.

"When the archives were built, that took things in a totally new direction," Wainscott said. "Over the past several years, they have drawn people from all over to this area, to do genealogical research. We feel this new focus is the best niche for this project."

Financial resources dried up after the two archives were brought in, and the development of the remainder of Gateway Village went into dormancy for several years, said Wainscott. Things began moving forward again last year, when the Clayton County Board of Commissioners approved the development's Phase 2, and made available $500,000 in bond resources to the county's economic development office, he said.

Commissioner Sonna Singleton, in whose district Gateway Village is located, said the new wave of economic development will come in the form of attracting smaller businesses, although a large business would be welcome, too. She believes the new focus on attracting businesses catering to genealogy-themed family reunions, could end up being a boon for the county.

"People are tired of the same old family reunions," said Singleton, whose own family has reunions attended by more than 200 people.

"Family reunions are now about showing the younger generations where the family came from. To show the grandchildren, and the nieces and nephews a piece of their family's history," Singleton said.