A grant of $1 million was made to LaGrange College to be used to develop a Master Plan for future growth strategy for the College and the City of LaGrange, with which the future of the College is so intertwined. The College contracted with a group of nationally known consultants to develop a strategic plan for both the College and the City of LaGrange.
The consultants spent many hours in LaGrange, talked with dozens of community leaders and, after posting a proposed draft of their Master Plan on the internet, received suggestions and reactions from area residents. An internet questionnaire asked readers for their thoughts on the initiatives they considered most important, most easily implemented and most critical to the future of LaGrange.
The final report from the consultants contained several recommendations on strategies to improve the area, while at the same time preparing it for the inevitable growth that was on the way, ready or not. The report dealt with transportation issues, housing issues, economic development and downtown revitalization. Its focus was centered on the importance of planning for controlled future development.
The consultants' strong admonition was that LaGrange should be poised to accept the growth coming from both Atlanta to our north and Columbus to our south.
The Master Plan for LaGrange, which was completed in 2002, identified the deterioration of LaGrange's housing stock as one of the city's most pressing issues. In that same year, grants totaling more than $5 million were made to DASH for LaGrange, Inc., a tax-exempt organization, to be used to combat substandard housing and the decline of inner-city neighborhoods in the City of LaGrange. DASH is an acronym for dependable, affordable, sustainable, housing.
Prior to the grants being made, the City of LaGrange had conducted a detailed housing study to assess the substandard housing situation in LaGrange. Findings of the study, which confirmed the fears of many, revealed that in a city of 25,000 in population, there were approximately 11,000 units of housing. Of these, almost 3,000 units were deemed to be substandard. Of the 400 housing units in Hillside, 33% were deemed to be substandard and 12% were dilapidated!
DASH was granted Redevelopment Authority status for the Hillside area by the City of LaGrange and, by exercising this role, lessens the burdens of local government. After securing such status, DASH began to implement an overall plan of rehabilitation whereunder properties in the Hillside area were purchased, rehabbed and then resold. Some new infill housing was constructed. The primary focus for all such work has been on Lee, Jefferson, and Lincoln Streets where a visitor will readily see that DASH is making a significant impact in its first target neighborhood, Hillside.
Another major component of the consultant's report was the need for downtown revitalization. The Downtown LaGrange Development Authority, DLDA, received a combined $5.2 million to buy the building at 124 Main Street, demolish its interior walls and completely renovate the interior and facade. The handsomely restored property now includes as tenants an upscale restaurant, specialty shops and the Towne Fitness Center. Hundreds of people are in and out of the area on a daily basis and Downtown LaGrange has become a destination, not a reference point. Appropriately, the DLDA is reinvesting its rental income back into downtown.
Other properties have been acquired and an impressive brickpaved pedestrian promenade now connects Bull and Main Street. Copper statues of playful children have been installed, together with trees lining the staircases leading to adjacent blocks. Another attractive pedestrian promenade connects Main Street and the spacious new parking lots that have been constructed behind Main Street businesses. Other surface-level parking lots have been constructed in strategic areas of downtown, thus accommodating several hundred vehicles. Even more parking is now under construction and for the next few years, particular emphasis and priority will be given to downtown projects.