Everything old in Fayetteville is new again


By making just a few stops in a 48-hour period last week, I witnessed the dichotomy of the old and the new in Fayetteville as the county’s oldest city looks towards its future.

The first stop was last Tuesday night at Twisted Taco, just before 7 p.m. The relatively new restaurant is situated in one of the city’s older buildings and serves as a meeting place and happy hour locale for some of the city’s newer residents.

On Tuesday night, millennials started pouring into the restaurant for $2 taco night and to reflect on their day’s work. Meanwhile, just across the street and oblivious to many of the Tacos’ crowd chowing down, many of the city’s older residents were engaging in a time-honored tradition of monitoring the night’s election returns.

The night’s biggest races were centered in Fayetteville, where voters would decide if the city’s newest mayor from one of its oldest families, Greg Clifton, would be returned to office and who would win the City Council seats.

Opposing Clifton and the current regime were candidates backed by the old guard, who were dumped in the 2011 election. As the results trickled in, former City Councilmen Al Hovey-King and Larry Dell monitored results to see how their slate of candidates featuring Ed Johnson, and two political newcomers, Harlan Shirley and Kathaleen Brewer, would fare.

When the results were tallied, the two former councilmen nearly danced a jig to the parking lot as their candidates swept the field. Everything old was truly new again on a muggy night in Fayetteville.

Fast forward to Thursday night and I sauntered into one of the city’s older restaurants, Wings and Things, before an important town hall meeting in Fayetteville. The bar was filled with older residents discussing NASCAR, while the restaurant was beginning to fill with football fans getting ready to watch a snooze-inducing Bengals-Browns game.

As the frivolity continued in the restaurant, I made my way to a rarely-seen nearly packed Fayetteville City Hall to watch as a vision for the city’s downtown was revealed.

The room was filled with old and new residents who learned the initial plans featured a new much denser downtown.

City planners have done a great job in bringing life back to the heart of the county, but now the city is at a crossroads and looking to make the city more of a real city.

Earlier this year, the city signed off on plans for a massive live-work development near Pinewood Studios. The development could bring 3,000 residents to the area, along with additional office and commercial space. At the time a few of the city’s older residents grumbled the city was trying to create the city’s downtown near the studios, but Thursday night, the city’s historic downtown got its close-up.

The plan is based on the theory of New Urbanism, which features a variety of uses in a dense area, but really is an old idea that some of the country’s oldest cities first used in creating vibrant downtowns.

The first reveal of the plan shows 600 multi-family homes and 400 single-family homes in the “Golden Arc” just south of the city’s current downtown. Many of the city’s long-time residents voiced concerns about density and traffic, but on the Experience Coweta-Fayette-Spalding Facebook page, many younger responders looked forward to having more places to go and urged developers to make it cart-friendly.

Just after the town hall meeting concluded, the city’s regular council meeting started and featured a new way of dealing with election results. Mayor Greg Clifton prefaced his remarks by saying some people wouldn’t like what he was saying and then proceeded to deliver his take on the election.

Clifton said he didn’t understand how he could lose and also took down newly-elected mayor Ed Johnson’s church over its lack of growth during Johnson’s tenure. Johnson pastors Flat Rock AME Church, one of the county’s historic congregations, dating from the 1800s.

Johnson, who will be the city’s first black mayor, chose to use an older form of election remarks by thanking everyone who had helped elect him and looked forward to seeing the city progress.

The meeting also featured a sighting of former Mayor Ken Steele, who was defeated four years ago by Clifton. It does indeed seem like the old band is getting together.

In just 48 hours, glimpses of the city’s past and future were revealed. Now, the intrigue begins. How will Fayetteville’s new mayor and council backed by the old guard govern? Stay tuned, the results could be fascinating.

[John Thompson has reported news in Fayette, Coweta and metro Atlanta counties since the late 1980s.]