ROSWELL, Ga. – If there is one thing that annoys an economic development team, it’s empty storefronts. At the height of the recession, it seemed the number of empty storefronts outnumbered occupied ones.
Now that the economy is picking itself back up, those empty buildings are making way for new tenants and some new thinking to fill them.
One of the newest businesses in Roswell is DaVinci’s Italian, described as “upscale casual dining,” in front of the Country Club of Roswell and Willow Springs on Old Alabama Road. It offers homemade, locally sourced Italian fare.
The restaurant occupies 6,000 square feet of space that sat vacant for two years, an eyesore for the residents who drive past every day but also for Steve Stroud, executive director of Roswell Inc., the economic development arm of the city.
DaVinci’s is a great example of an old shopping center getting new life, he said.
“Redevelopment is the way of the future,” Stroud said.
For DaVinci’s, Roswell was a new step for them. With other locations dotted around Atlanta, they are more “ITP” than “OTP.” To leap from Midtown to Roswell takes some rethinking – both of the menu and business – but it also takes the right location.
“There is nowhere for the residents [of Roswell Country Club] to go eat and drink,” said David Hearn, vice president of operations for DaVinci’s. “We fell in love with the opportunity to establish in a community so eager for a place to call home.”
Judging from the opening night, July 26, Roswell residents have taken DaVinci’s up on their offer to be the neighborhood restaurant, welcoming the new neighbor with their feet. The restaurant is located right next to the main entrance to the neighborhood.
“We really see this location becoming a neighborhood destination spot that offers a menu full of delicious fresh ingredient alternatives that seems to be getting harder to find,” said General Manager Rick Coscia. “We truly are passionate about food and I guess you could say we are the anti-fast food restaurant establishment.”
This is all good news for Stroud and part of a new, evolving trend in business.
“There are a lot of old shopping centers, the typical retail from the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Stroud said. “All the parking is up front and they are aging. We are trying to clean things up and bring these buildings up to the street.”
Part of that puzzle is Roswell’s newest zoning code, the Unified Development Code (UDC), which aims to simplify zoning and be more flexible to allow mixed use zoning.
Stroud said many of the empty shopping centers could be repurposed for many uses, including office space or residential.
“There are more options now,” he said. “The new retail today is not the big box. It’s a lot of little small boxes clustered together.”
He is seeing a trend toward more walkable communities in the metro area, where people want to live, work and play all close together.
“In some areas you want to put some residential combined with retail and commercial,” he said. “The UDC is a great tool to be able to put together and clean up properties. It helps the redevelopment process tremendously. It gives the developer and the property owner up front what their expectation is for that piece of property.”
DaVinci’s is located at the Terraces at Willow Springs, 2500 Old Alabama Road, Roswell. For more information, find them online at www.davincisdelivers.com.