'Exciting to be downtown': Officials report progress on downtown Dalton master plan

Dalton artist Ruth Park works on a mural on the building at the northeast corner of Hamilton Street and King Street in downtown Dalton. Work on the mural has been delayed due to the weather but Park hopes it will be completed by the end of July.

Nashville, Tennessee, has its angel wings, a mural on a building in the chic Gulch neighborhood that draws visitors from around the world who come to have their photo taken in front of the painting.

Downtown Dalton could soon have a mural that civic leaders hope will rival those angel wings.

"We were looking for something that would symbolize the city and be a place that people would want to come to," said Allyson Coker, project manager of Believe Greater Dalton, a public-private partnership aimed at implementing a five-year strategic plan for Dalton and Whitfield County.

The Dalton mural, funded by this year's class of Leadership Dalton-Whitfield, is being painted by Dalton artist Ruth Park on a building at the northeast corner of Hamilton Street and King Street. 

"It's going to be an enormous peacock, something you can take your picture in front of," said Park. 

Park said if the weather permits it will be done by the end of the month.

"It's called a selfie wall," said Coker. "But I'm not exactly sure why. People will want to have their photos taken there, but they won't be selfies. I'd call it a destination photo. When you see a photo taken there, you know it's Dalton."

The peacock was chosen because of Dalton's history on Peacock Alley, a stretch of U.S. Highway 41 where people hung chenille bedspreads with peacock designs to sell.

The mural is the first step in a drive for more public art in downtown Dalton that was called for in the Renaissance Strategic Vision and Plan, which was unveiled in February. Put together by the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute for Government with input from the Georgia Municipal Association, the Georgia Cities Foundation, the Downtown Dalton Development Authority (DDDA), Believe Greater Dalton and many local citizens, groups and officials, the 204-page plan aims to revitalize downtown Dalton.

Coker and plan liaison George Woodward recently updated members of the board of the DDDA on the progress of the plan.

"We wanted to update the DDDA board on where we were," Woodward said. "Obviously, not everything in the plan has been done. But there are a number of items where we are making progress."

Woodward said the Creative Arts Guild has received an artist-in-residence grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation in Chattanooga.

"That artist-in-residence will spend a great deal of time downtown, doing renderings for business and building owners for facade improvements," Woodward said. "The DDDA has a grant program for facade improvements."

He said the artist should be in place by the end of the year.

Woodward said a new traffic signal with a decorative arm similar to the Streetscape signals in downtown Dalton should be in place at the intersection of Crawford Street and Thornton Avenue by the end of the year, replacing a signal that was knocked down by a truck earlier this year. The City Council in June approved an encroachment easement agreement with Dalton Public Schools, which is needed to do the work. 

Woodward said Crawford Street is one of the gateways to downtown, so the new traffic signal will improve the appearance of that entranceway.

Cuyler Street is also considered an entrance to downtown in the plan, and officials are looking to extend Streetscape, which includes not only decorative street signs but improvements to stormwater drainage and other underground utilities, to Cuyler Street.

Dalton Assistant Public Works Director Andrew Parker says the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that was defeated by voters in March would have included money for further Streetscape work.

"The idea was to extend Streetscape on Pentz Street from Gordon Street, where it now stops, to Cuyler Street, and on Cuyler Street from Hamilton Street to Thornton Avenue," he said. "That was part of the original plan back around 2000 or so, but it never got completed because of a lack of funding."

Parker said that after talking to officials with Believe Greater Dalton, the Public Works Department has agreed to do the planning needed to extend Streetscape "so that if funding becomes available at some point we will have some cost estimates."

Woodward said the master plan also calls for improvements to Burr Park.

"Burr Park predated the master plan, and it has been a success beyond anyone's dreams," he said.

Right now, the city uses portable toilets for concerts and other events at the park, some of which, Woodward said, have drawn more than 1,000 people.

"Burr Park is so nice. And Dalton has such a reputation for hospitality, so we would like to get rid of those (portable toilets) as soon as possible," he said.

Woodward said officials hope that by the end of the year they can arrange private funding for permanent restrooms at the park.

"I don't know what the final plan will be, but I would imagine that when a group holds an event at Burr Park, they would pay a service fee to utilize the restrooms," he said. "They would be opened up for events and locked up when the events are over."

Woodward said officials intend to place the master plan online on the Believe Greater Dalton website, www.believegreaterdalton.com, and the DDDA website, www.downtowndalton.com, and to update it as various goals can be marked off as achieved.

DDDA board member Juan Lama said he was impressed by the report.

"It's still early in the process, but we've already accomplished quite a bit, and we are getting ready to finalize some other things," he said. "It's exciting to be downtown, and there's a lot more to come."

Park is expected to be working on the mural Friday afternoon and into the early evening. People attending the “Off The Rails Summer Music Series” concert at Burr Park at 7:30 p.m. are invited to stop by and see how the work is going.

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