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Mansfield: Poised for smart growth

On the opposite end of Georgia Highway 11 from the city of Social Circle is another Newton County city poised to take advantage of the growth quickly coming on Newton County’s east side.

Mayor Jefferson Riley said his city, established in 1904, is on the rise again after a period of decline.

“Mansfield was  thriving many years ago, from the start up on until about 50 years ago, “he said. “Then it got into a decline. Mansfield is absolutely on the rise now.

“Of course, with all the activity out at the interstate, Highway 11, and Highway 278, with Shire and the megasite and all, there’s no doubt it’s going to affect Mansfield and Newborn in a big way. There’s no way that it can’t.”

Riley said the city is planning to revitalize its downtown area with a project that includes new roads, new paving, new striping and a park area with benches for people who use the trail in Mansfield.

“It’s going to beautify the town,” Riley said, “It’s going to make it all look fresh and new and neat and clean.  In about six months, we’re going to have this really beautiful, fresh, new look right in the downtown area of Mansfield and we’re so excited about it. It is well needed.”

Along with the infrastructure improvements planned for the city, Riley said local developers have plans to rehabilitate and restore buildings in the downtown area and bring in new restaurants.

Blackwell Grocery, currently downtown, is building a new store on the outskirts of the city next to Beaver Park. Riley said the new store, which has been annexed into the city will have groceries, hardware, hunting and fishing supplies and a pharmacy.

He said his city would like to allow growth without losing the historic value of the community.

“We want small business, locally owned, kind of like Bread and Butter in downtown Covington. We want that local, locally owned feel,” he said.

Two restaurants in the city, Roosters and Where There’s Smoke have developed followings far past the Mansfield city limits. Riley said people far and wide have now heard of them.

“Everywhere I go now and I say ‘Mansfield’, people say ‘Oh yeah, Roosters’ or ‘Oh yeah, y’all got that barbecue place, Where There’s Smoke,’” he said.

Riley said development along Interstate 20 and Mansfield’s proximity to it will help his city grow.

“We’re about as far south of I-20 as Social Circle is north,” he said, “When you’re bringing in businesses like Facebook and then you’ve got Shire, that at some point the maximum amount of employees may go to 2,000 and then whatever goes into the megasite, those people are going to want to live somewhere, and most people want to live fairly close to where they work.”

Looking one year into the future, Riley sees the downtown revitalization finished with new streets with restaurants in the buildings being restored.

“I think the biggest thing the community might be worried about is a huge influx of people. Nobody wants that in their community. They don’t want a ton of traffic or so many people you can’t move. People come to Mansfield because they like their privacy,” he said.

“But, with what’s going on 4 or 5 miles away, we’re not going to stop it. So, the only thing we can do, in my opinion, is try to control the growth, control what does come in. If we’re going to have some growth, and we know we are, let’s decide ahead of time what we would like to see in Mansfield. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

Looking five years ahead Riley said, “If we do it right, we’ll still have a nice, clean walking community, with some small locally owned business in town. 

“I can see Newton Trails being completed and having people walk from Covington to Mansfield, stop off and have a hamburger at Roosters or stop in Where There’s Smoke for barbecue. I can see the right kind of activity going on in Mansfield versus what could go on if we don’t do it right.”