History of Peachtree City Part 5 —
Maybe you do not believe in Divine intervention. Perhaps it’s all just a series of miraculous coincidences.
A young guy from Europe, who studied at Georgia Tech, and is working in Georgia goes to a residential real estate developer out of Thomson, Georgia, and gives him a pitch on this new “garden city” concept they are implementing in the United Kingdom, building entirely new cities in rural areas.
Out of nowhere, the real estate developer, known for allowing alcohol to influence his decision-making, just shows up with his arms full of land plats and says to start building the city without any prior research to see if the location is even viable.
The founding real estate developer’s son is a student at Georgia Tech and suggests that his father hire his fraternity brother as the first employee to help get the project moving.
A new city is incorporated. The first employee ends up becoming the first mayor.
Money is tight and development is slow. The founding real estate developer and his fellow investors need to sell.
A first-generation American in Pennsylvania goes into business with his Scottish-born neighbor in 1865, becomes a captain of industry, is bought out by one of the wealthiest men in the world, and develops a passion for real estate investing.
The family trust established by the captain of industry sees real estate as a way to increase the family’s fortune. Decades later, they purchase the Peachtree City land and the development concept from the city founder and fellow investors.
In 1979, the world is in turmoil and so are the finances of the new owners of the Peachtree City real estate, ending up in foreclosure, and literally giving the properties over to the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States.
Joel Cowan is moving on to other things. He stays on as a resident, interests include the Fayette State Bank (now the NationsBank), state politics, and other ventures.
After the crash
As though it were Divine intervention, Equitable just happens to be a prominent investor in another new city under the same development concept, Columbia, Maryland and creates a subsidiary called Peachtree City Development Corporation to oversee future development. The locals simply refer to it as “PCDC.”
After searching for the right candidate to undertake the monumental task of propelling the development of a city twice rejected, a former Georgia Power employee and Executive Director of the Rockdale County Chamber of Commerce is selected. His name is Douglas B. , Sr. (1941 – 2020).
Corporate pilot and restaurant owner Herb Frady (1930 – 2018) is the mayor. Frady says that upon entering elected office, pretty much all the city owned was “pencils and paper.”
The city population is 5,700. The first traffic light within the city limits was installed in 1979 at the intersection of Georgia State Routes 54 and 74. The city has a Big Star grocery store. The city’s remarkable international business presence begins with a $50 million plant for Japan’s TDK.
Mark this point down on the timeline as the beginning of the growth boom stage. The brash Doug Mitchell has a stellar attribute in that he knows how to hire high-quality people who produce a quality product. Equitable has the finances and PCDC has the energy and marketing skills to make big things happen.
Hartsfield International Airport is growing, the jobs are growing, and top airline executives like Hollis L. Harris (1931 – 2016) are moving to Peachtree City. The city is drawing high-income families and creating a name for itself through PCDC’s marketing. In future years, there will be a line forming to buy a house and start a business.
All work and no credit
Mitchell was Peachtree City’s version of P.T. Barnum, a savvy businessman, and a promoter. He was successful, but many in the upper tier of Peachtree City society were reluctant to give him any credit, and he craved adoration.
I can remember attending events where Mitchell tenaciously made the sincere claim that PCDC made Peachtree City into a success story. Eyes rolled, murmuring commenced, and no affirmation was forthcoming from the condescending bystanders.
Mitchell and PCDC had the magic recipe of a unique development scheme and strict building standards, and the new residents loved it. Mitchell devoted around 30 years of his life to promoting Peachtree City. It was the era when the city went from a mere possibility to the version of a city that other cities envied and emulated.
PCDC’s success comes with the advantage of having the real estate already in hand. They are the master developer, selling individual lots for homes in subdivisions or commercial sites to individual builders.
It was PCDC who held the builders to the development standard, not the city government. They keep the standards for layout, aesthetic value, and landscaping as top priorities. Those builders who do not want to comply are told to go build elsewhere. In fact, until the early 2000s, PCDC operated as a kind of surrogate local government with the actual municipal government filling in the gaps.
Through careful observation, someone can drive around the city today and recognize what a pre-PCDC and PCDC development is.
It is not all sunny days and laughter with the Peachtree City Development Corporation (later known as Pathways Communities). Immense power can bring significant problems, and a city where practically all stores, housing, and industry are processed by one company makes the city take on the air of a bizarre company town. More on that later in The Citizen.
You will not find any statues or memorials for Doug Mitchell, and yet he and his team are most responsible for the city’s success. Their efforts spawned the lucrative environment that helped all local businesses succeed.
(How many of us drove down to Peachtree City after seeing the full-page PCDC advertisements in the AJC week after week? Post your experience in the comments.)
Read the previous history columns in this series with these links:
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. You can read all his columns by clicking on his photo below.]