Lilburn was named near the turn of the 20th century, the themed period of its upcoming rebirth.
Well into design of its new downtown city hall and library along revamped Main Street immediately east of Highway 29, that turn-of-the-century plan remains one City Manager Bill Johnsa hopes rejuvenates a Gwinnett County city first settled in the early 1800s.
"We want to build something that's new, but looks old," he said. "What we're creating is a new gateway into the downtown area."
Inspired by downtown streetscapes of Suwanee, Buford, Duluth and elsewhere, Lilburn's planned theme will be similar to one comparably sized Sugar Hill recently began, complete with wide sidewalks, globe street lamps and mixed-use development. Chiefly, Main Street's sharply angled entry from Highway 29 will be made more perpendicular to facilitate its estimated 7,000 cars daily and enhance city hall's visibility from the highway.
"You drive down Highway 29, and nothing tells you to turn and that there's something down there," said outspoken Downtown Development Authority member Helen Morriss. "This will invite people to turn off Highway 29 into our city."
A grander city center initially had been proposed on both sides of Highway 29 up to Indian Trail Road. Also proposed was placement of city hall and the library on 2 1/2 acres fronting the highway immediately south of existing Main Street. The plan now is to build the 24,000-square foot city hall and adjacent 20,000-square foot library on five acres on the northwest corner of Main and Church streets.
East beyond a traffic circle there, new Main will connect with existing Main and its half-mile to the current downtown at Railroad Avenue. The existing 14,000-square foot civic building there, which comprise city hall, courts and public safety, eventually will house just courts and public safety when the new city hall is complete.
A bronze statue of children playing in a water feature sits in storage, the planned crowning jewel to the city hall complex. Yet whether it'll be central to an atrium or courtyard remains uncertain until design is completed in about eight months.
Johnsa said Lilburn is budgeting to pay roughly half of this first $10 million phase of downtown development, with the county and its library board paying the remainder. Johnsa said Lilburn's part will come from roughly $4.5 million of SPLOST and $400,000 in capital projects funds. So far, the city has made only its first $40,000 installment toward its approximate half of architect Precision Planning's $650,000 design.
Tentatively, Lilburn hopes to break ground in spring of 2012 and be finished by fall of 2013. Ultimately, the city hopes a revitalized downtown entices developers to build there, including on what's planned to become an assemblage of roughly a dozen lots triangulated between Main, Church and Highway 29.
Lilburn's director of planning and economic development, Doug Stacks, said Main's reconfiguration is key to the eventual shape of downtown.
"We want the road to be completed with building in mind so that they fit," he said.
Morriss, a Lilburn resident since 1977 and an original member of the 6-year-old DDA, considers downtown development long overdue. She said her city of nearly 12,000 has lagged neighboring cities' long-developed downtowns.
"Obviously, we've got to do something to spur this city along," she said. "I don't know when the economy will pick up, but we hope we can put a shot in it. We've got to make some changes, or we might as well roll up the sidewalks and move out.
"Maybe it's my age," she added, "but I feel like we've been stagnant for a while. I've watched other cities grow. We've got to push things along a little."
Mayor Diana Preston agreed a revived downtown is overdue, but feels things are headed in the right direction.
"Things are beginning to pay off for Lilburn," she said. "Everything's really coming together, and we're rocking along. We're really turning some heads."
Johnsa said Lilburn has been inspired by Gwinnett's cities with rebuilt downtowns, but insisted it isn't mimicking them.
"We're not trying to be be a Suwanee or Buford," he said. "We're trying to be a new Lilburn. This is our time."