What will downtown Villa Rica be like in the next 20 years? That answer became much clearer when the Villa Rica Downtown Master Plan was unveiled during a meeting held at the Venue, located next to Olive Tree Restaurant in downtown Villa Rica. The three main topics discussed were, “Where are we now?” “Where are we going” and “How do we get there?”
The groundwork for the meeting actually began in 2015 when the City of Villa Rica was chosen by the Georgia Municipal Association to participate in a downtown master planning program called “Renaissance Strategic Visioning and Planning” or “RSVP.” The goal of the program is to provide a well thought out blueprint for future growth that will make downtown a vibrant and enjoyable destination. The plan consists of a multi-step preservation process to retain and preserve the historic heritage and architecture while creating a more appealing atmosphere. If the plans are successful, during the next 15 years, downtown Villa Rica will be slowly transformed from its current description of “quaint” to “vibrant.”
The first part of the meeting discussed where we are now, at this moment in time. Villa Rica has experienced extreme growth since the turn of the century, with a 256% population increase since 2000. While in 2000, the population was 4,134, the population for 2025 is projected at 34,784 people. The city is a strong middle class community that is wealthier than Georgia average, thanks especially to new developments such as Mirror Lake and The Georgian. About 25% of the families in Villa Rica have an income between $50,000 to $75,000.
Despite the fact that Villa Rica has numerous strengths, the first step in developing a master plan is to identify areas that could use improvement. Earlier this year 26 focus groups and over 20 interviews were conducted, to individuals and groups in the community, asking what they perceive to be the biggest strengths of, and challenges facing downtown Villa Rica. Downtown received high marks for The Mill along with its festivals and events. Dining and retail options were also popular and people felt safe due to the police department. Respondents liked the fact that Villa Rica is a family oriented small town where one can walk from place to place.
The top issues were parking, connecting the two sections of downtown across the railroad tracks, and a desire for more “greening”. Inferior building signage and facades were mentioned, as were “gateway enhancements”, meaning signage that welcomes those entering the downtown area. Participants overwhelmingly felt that parking kept people from visiting downtown, and that it was the most significant barrier to business growth in the future. Those that participated in the surveys wanted to see even more walkability, growing the downtown area as a destination, more dining and retail options, and a better look. Other suggestions made, were solving the parking issues, improving the variety of acts at The Mill, and creating activities for youth downtown.
Next, the meeting turned to the subject of where we are going. For this segment, a number of exciting ideas and artistic renderings were revealed in a Powerpoint presentation. The ideas presented maintained the historic integrity of the downtown area, while enhancing the overall experience with many new features. Among the concepts discussed were streetscape improvements, a Veterans Walk and Gold Miner Plaza, a pedestrian tunnel, a train viewing platform, splash pad, parking deck, a skate park, Avanti Hotel, alley improvements, corner park, cottages, signage, and transforming Butterballs Auto Repair into a welcome/visitors center. The strategy for making the city more appealing includes building facades, planting trees and street-scaping, putting up signs, re-use of buildings, and most importantly the preservation of historic buildings. For children, proposals include a splash pad (similar to the one at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta), a skate park, and a park on Candler Street.
To close out the presentation, an Action Plan of 15 items was revealed. First, it was emphasized that there should be no more tear-downs. Buildings should be repurposed if at all possible. There should be an organizational restructuring of Main Street and the Tourism Bureau, and a Tourism logo should be developed. Downtown Villa Rica should be marketed, especially as more features are added such as streetscaping improvements, the splash pad and the train viewing platform. Since the Mill is the favorite destination downtown, more live music and events should be added, including pop-up markets. Events such as the recent Jazz Festival create tourism and bring new people into the community. Some nice residential development downtown should also take place. A civic center, conference center, and hotel are also goals for the future.
The council’s goal is to have a community that has something for everyone. Villa Rica also recently built a new $4.8 million-dollar library, as well as purchased 13.44 acres abutting the V-Plex for new ball fields. The next step is for the document to be presented to the city council for its adoption as the official downtown master plan. The council has been involved throughout the process, so many of the ideas have already been discussed, at least informally. Once the plan is adopted, the staff will begin to include portions of the plan in the annual budget process.
Villa Rica is currently debt free, aside from revenue bonds for the water treatment facilities. With this financial health, the council has some discretionary funds to work on the new improvements. The city has also received some grants and funds for some of the proposals and will attempt to secure funding for others. Some of the initiatives could be implemented right away, while others could take as long as 20 years.