City Focus: Fayetteville
Whoever believes the expression “you can’t go home again” surely hasn’t been to Fayetteville, Georgia. This once sleepy town south of Atlanta has seen remarkable growth during the past few years, thanks in no small part to the state’s booming movie-making industry. City resident Lauren Panter grew up in Fayetteville and recently returned to the city to raise her family. Living walking distance from downtown allows her to enjoy everything the city has to offer, from craft beer and wine festivals to weekly farmers markets. “One of my family’s favorite is ‘Lunch on the Lawn,’ where there is live music right on the historic courthouse grounds,” Panter says.
Within Fayetteville’s quaint downtown, there’s plenty of rich history to discover, including the aforementioned courthouse, the oldest such structure remaining in Georgia. Named for Revolutionary War hero and Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette and founded in 1823, this former agricultural trading town now has a mind toward a future that embraces both old and new.
Just 22 miles south of Atlanta, more than 16,000 people now call the Fayette County seat home. City Manager Ray Gibson is currently working alongside the mayor and city council to attract new residents and visitors with a new downtown master plan. “There’s a lot of great, new energy on our downtown square, with new restaurants and boutiques,” Gibson says. “We want to expand the footprint of downtown.”
Brian Wismer, assistant director of economic development, echoes that goal and says he’s excited about the city’s momentum, which has driven it to reach full capacity in its commercial area, thus the need for expansion. “Downtowns are the historic fabric of most communities,” Wismer says. “The authenticity found there is not something you can duplicate, so we want to ensure that Downtown Fayetteville thrives for future generations to enjoy.”
The historic charm coupled with a top-notch school system (Fayette County Schools ranked No. 6 in the state this year, according to Niche.com) has attracted many airline employees to the city for the last 30 years. The world’s most connected airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, is just 15 miles away, making for an easy commute by Metro Atlanta standards. This proximity also has attracted the movie industry. “Now as the headquarters of Pinewood Atlanta Studios, we have the opportunity to welcome a whole new group of creative people to our community,” Wismer says.
Film Industry Focus
When the film industry began flocking to the state after it passed a 30-percent tax credit to qualified productions in 2008, it was in dire need for qualified workers. Fayetteville’s Georgia Film Academy, a collaborative effort between Georgia’s University System and Technical College System, stepped in to provide hands-on experience to prepare students for jobs in film and television, which brings in about $7 billion per year to the state.
The Pinewood Atlanta Studios Production Centre houses the academy’s premier soundstage and production workshop, just across the street from the Pinewood Atlanta Studios main lot where films such as “Captain America: Civil War” were filmed. This access and proximity to the pros is paying off for academy grads and Georgians with film experience, as recent reports show nearly 85 percent of the workforce at Pinewood Atlanta Studios are Georgia-based.
Preserving the Past, Building a Bright Future
The city established a growth strategy a year ago with a formalized economic development plan, targeting health services, neighborhood restaurants and entertainment production support services. Since Pinewood Atlanta Studios – the second largest purpose-built film studio in North America – set up shop in 2013, Fayetteville has had an unmatched opportunity to attract entertainment businesses that support the 700-acre campus.
Still in early planning, Gibson says city leaders are working with real estate consultants and planning firms to identify “where we can create the most impact to serve as a catalyst for private-sector development interest” in the downtown area. Part of that new development will include a new city hall, serving as a secondary anchor to the historic courthouse, and more buildings to recruit restaurants and retail.
To support these new businesses, the city is looking to encourage downtown residential development to add to the recently opened Meridian at Lafayette, which will include more than 200 luxury apartment units once completed this summer.
Additionally, leaders are working to help Georgia Military College’s Fayetteville campus, which opened in the fall of 2015 and already is seeking to double its footprint. Strategically located between Pinewood Atlanta Studios and Piedmont Fayette Hospital (the city’s largest employer, which completed a $61-million expansion this year), the college is collaborating with city officials to create specialized curricula for the health services and film production industries.
In keeping with the past, Fayetteville also looks to preserve its natural beauty. In partnership with the Southern Conservation Trust, the city has established a master site plan for The Ridge Nature Area, a public green space project spanning the next several years to create 300 acres of passive park, which emphasizes open spaces and preserving the natural habitat. More than six miles of multi-use trails have been laid, with volunteers helping to install foot bridges, kiosks and signage. Future plans include a 7.5-mile kayak/canoe water trail, nature center, picnic pavilion, restroom, gazebo and education areas.
Panter says she loves being part of such a close-knit and engaged community that offers so many recreational and cultural opportunities. “Fayetteville offers a little bit for everybody… if you want a little bit of land and not see your neighbors, you can have that. But if you don’t want to get in your car and drive everywhere, if you want to walk down to the square to have dinner, you can do that.”