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Crane

I’m standing at the precipice, looking down into a sparkling, new state-of-the-art, 3,500-seat amphitheater, wondering in part how it got here in the charming Southern Crescent town of Stockbridge. It occurs to me during the tour that follows that this is a town that has taken advantage of the “down-time” brought on by this pandemic, taking stock of its assets as well as its liabilities, and deciding to make some additions. The venue is so new it doesn’t yet have a name, but it will open a bit later this month, with Georgian Gladys Knight and the peerless Patti LaBelle. Stockbridge, now the largest municipality in Henry County (the seventh most populous in Georgia), may be due for a diva wattage overload on Saturday, Sept. 25th at 7 p.m.

A short three years ago, Stockbridge, a majority/minority community with predominantly Black elected officials, faced an attack on its assets and tax base by the neighboring and more affluent community of Eagles Landing nearby. Eagle’s Landing is majority white, though it does also have minority residents, such as the late radio legend and former presidential aspirant Herman Cain, who was a big fan of the community and its world-class golf course. Cain also maintained his offices in another Henry County hamlet, the county seat of McDonough.

Eagle’s Landing has larger homes and a few manors, as well as a fast-growing retail corridor, located just off I-75, but it did not have much in the way industrial zoning for larger employers, and the bulk of Eagle’s Landing residents often shopped on nearby Ga. Highway 138, and the Stockbridge linear retail and restaurant corridor. Instead of drawing a map, and perhaps planning future growth to the south of Eagle’s Landing, the golf community reached into the municipal borders of Stockbridge, proposing their new city in effect usurp and absorb nearly 50% of Stockbridge’s annual tax base revenue, and roughly 20% of the land within existing city limits. At the time, a community of roughly 25,000 residents, Stockbridge also charged no property taxes on residential property owners.

Summarizing the waged battles would consume this entire column; suffice it to say that when the proposed residents of the City of Eagles Landing (which included a healthy handful of longtime citizens of Stockbridge), made it to the ballot box, the referendum overwhelmingly opposed the creation of the new city. Stockbridge, long viewed as the underdog, was victorious. The final tally was 57% NO, and 43% YES for a City of Eagle’s Landing. But Stockbridge didn’t just rest on its laurels; again, they took stock, noted where they were standing in the region, and got to work. This new amphitheater can be easily accessed, with its free parking, incredible acoustics, nearby I-75 and I-675, and not far from I-20, as well as three converging state highways.

I expect that Chastain Park Amphitheater and the Cellairis Lakewood Amphitheater to the north may soon be feeling some ticket sale reverberations. There are two other charming amphitheaters that already exist on the metro southside, at Wolf Creek, and in Fayetteville, but neither is in the class or league of this new Stockbridge venue. I was introduced to this facility by one of Georgia’s newest state legislators, the savvy and sassy Rep. Angela Moore (D-90), whose district straddles parts of DeKalb, Henry and Rockdale counties. Ms. Moore sees this venue as the catalyst that it can easily become, and she won’t be bashful about sharing it.

I’m not suggesting that every community needs to build or should take on the expense of maintaining a performing arts center, stadium, amphitheater or coliseum. A needs/market assessment should precede a multi-million investment on that level, as well as drive-in market and related assets and infrastructure, like parking, potential access to mass transit, etc... Stockbridge smartly also took those steps.

Stockbridge is a rail town, and for CSX and Norfolk Southern it remains on an active rail corridor. If Ms. Knight has a savvy manager and times it right, she can be on stage performing “The Midnight Train to Georgia,” just as that regular-as-clockwork 8:30 p.m. freighter is rolling through town. Again, taking inventory and making the best of all circumstances, particularly those that some otherwise might view as roadblocks. And when the full season offerings are available, I plan to be making a few treks of my own to Stockbridge, as well as several fine restaurants and hotels nearby... and on the subject of that as yet unnamed asset... I have a suggestion, Stockbridge Under the Stars.

Bill Crane is a syndicated columnist based in Decatur. He has worked in politics for Democrats and Republicans, respects the process and will try and give you some things to think about. Your thoughts and responses to his opinions are also welcome, bill.csicrane@gmail.com.

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