Downtown projects ready by fall

LaGRANGE – City officials are hoping some of the major projects that are in the works will have a positive impact on businesses downtown.

“I visited Carrollton last week, and I just wanted to go to downtown Carrollton to see how their motel and everything is working out,” said Councilman Willie Edmondson. “Downtown Carrollton was just full. It was a Friday night, and it was full. I mean people were downtown, walking, so I’m hoping that our downtown will get to be the same way, and I’m really looking at the brewery and the hotel coming downtown, so I hope that everyone knows that we are doing all of this, and they will come downtown and utilize what we have downtown.”

Carrollton is one of the cities that local officials regularly look to when gauging the effects of projects like the hotel and the Thread, and they have watched the success of those projects carefully before deciding to bring similar projects to LaGrange. LaGrange will soon be ahead of its northern neighbor on one count, though, with the opening of Wild Leap Brew Co. which is expected to open on schedule this summer following the completion of renovations to the former Westbrook Tire building.

“That is a $2 million project – renovation project,” said Bobby Carmichael, with LaGrange’s Downtown Development Authority. “That building was deeded from the Callaway Foundation to the downtown (development) authority a few months ago. It is a $2 million project with a grant from the Callaway Foundation for a million and a half and then we have a half million-dollar loan from a local bank.”

According to Carmichael, the project is on schedule, but slightly over budget.

“When you look at that building it is not really any surprise that when you get behind those walls and under the floor that you are going to find some things that you didn’t expect were there,” said Carmichael.

The DDA authorized about $100,000 additional funds this week to cover costs that have arisen since the project began, like the costs associated with a delay early in construction process.

“We feel really good about where the brewery is,” said Carmichael. “We (the city) will own the building. We’ll lease it to the owners of the brewery for 15 years, and they’ll have the option to buy it.”

Wild Leap is currently manufacturing their beer in Atlanta due to the construction on the building, but the brew team may be manufacturing beer in town as soon as June, and even as the construction on the brewery’s eventual home continues, Wild Leap is already making it a point to participate in local events like this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration scheduled to take place on Main Street tonight at 6 p.m., where it will be the official beer of the event.

Likewise, downtown LaGrange’s other major project – the Courtyard by Marriott – also appears like it will open on schedule this fall. While contractors cannot estimate an exact opening date for the hotel, there is a major push to have the doors open in time for some of the major events scheduled at Sweetland Amphitheatre.

“October 20 and 21 is going to be a big weekend in downtown LaGrange, and all the hotels are going to be booked because of the LaGrange College homecoming,” said Carmichael. “They are having a concert at Sweetland. There is a craft beer festival the next night. The MS Bike ride will be coming back to downtown LaGrange with 800 riders, and they are going to be headquartered down at the other end of town, so I told the hotel owners, if you could open up by October 20 or 21, you could fill it up. … So, they’ve made that sort of a goal to get there.”

The hotel is expected to hire a general manager during the summer, then a sales and marketing manager. The opening date will depend on the progress inside the building, but so far the project has been ahead of schedule.

The parking deck behind the hotel is also reported to be making good progress and is about a third of the way complete. Once the deck is fully assembled, fixtures for lights and other finishing touches will need to be added to the inside and the drive leading up to the deck will need to be paved before the deck can be put to use.

“The parking deck should – on paper – be ready sometime in late July, depending on the paving of the road between the hotel and the parking deck,” said Carmichael. “They hope to open the parking deck a good bit sooner than the hotel which would be good news for the neighbors in the area.”

The parking deck is being financed through a $4 million grant from the Callaway Foundation to the DDA, and the Courtyard by Marriott is being constructed with assistance from Tax Allocation District funds, which the hotel is set to repay to the city over a 15-year term.