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Merchant speaks on filming challenges
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The controversy over the filmmaking boom's impact on Olde Town businesses flared anew at the April 15 Conyers City Council meeting.

Mary Blount, owner of the Escentually Yours gift boutique on Center Street, said that street closures for Hollywood film shoots has caused her sales to drop by more than 67 percent. She was the only business owner to speak to the council, but she said others are having the same issue.

"When they close the street, it kills our business," Blount told the council. "I think [filmmaking] could work, but it's not working here."

The film that most recently closed the streets is "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip," according to Gina Hartsell, film liaison with the Conyers Rockdale Economic Development Council, who attended the meeting.

Councilman Vince Evans told Blount that the city continues to work on improving its film policy, which recently was tweaked to discourage multi-day street closures, as the News previously reported. Evans is himself a former critic turned cautious support of local Hollywood shoots.

"We're trying to find the middle ground, the balancing act," said Evans, adding that they obviously need to work harder. "Give us time to work it out."

"I'm not sure my business can hold out to give you that time," Blount replied.

Like much of metro Atlanta, Conyers has become a hotspot for TV and movie filming. The business has pumped millions of dollars into the local economy. Such productions as "The Originals" TV vampire drama have established local offices and studios, including in OldeTown. But there is no doubt that street closures in particular take a bite out of other economic activity.

Aside from Evans' brief comments, the council did not discuss the issue or ask any questions.However, after the meeting, several officials spoke with Blount. They included Councilman John Fountain; city Public Relations and Tourism Director Jennifer Edwards; Conyers Main Street Program Chairman Scott Hartsell; and Gina Hartsell.


In other council business:

-Conyers police officers will start carrying an antidote that can quickly reverse a potentially fatal overdose from heroin or other opiates, Councilman Cleveland Stroud announced. The medicine, called naloxone, is already carried by many police departments, since police may be first on the scene of someone's overdose. Police Chief Gene Wilson said all officers have been trained in its use. City Manager Tony Lucas said it also can save the lives of officers if they are accidentally dosed with a drug while gathering evidence. Councilman Fountain, who is also an Emory-trained physician, vouched for the medicine. "It's a really good thing," he said.

-The council agreed to purchase a high-resolution aerial photo of the city for what officials called a bargain price of $4,031.12. The city is piggybacking on a county deal to purchase a similar photo of all of Rockdale via the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.

City Planning Director Marvin Flangian told the News that there are many reasons to have an updated, highly detailed photo of the city. Development, public safety and public works projects are among the many uses. Flanigan said the city likes to get an updated aerial photo every five years or so. The current photo in the city's possession was taken about seven years ago and cost about $15,000, he said.

The fee for the new photo, according to the approved contract, amounts to $105 per square mile, plus 7 percent.

-The new D, Downtown zoning district in the Olde Town area was changed to allow sign companies with a special-use permit. The change was made to let Sign Solutions of East Atlanta expand at its Railroad Street location.

The four-year-old sign company is currently at 1081 Railroad St. N.W. In a letter to the city, owner Chris Conner said he wants to expand by moving to the other end of the property at 1071-1075 Railroad, where his landlord is willing to expand the building for him. Conner wrote that he was unaware of the new zoning, which would have prevented his move.

-Councilman Evans reported that the Downtown Development Authority will revive its façade-improvement grant program, and is considering commissioning a mural on a wall along Railroad Street. "Maybe a train going down the tracks," or images of local tourist sites, Evans said.

-Jil Goodson was recognized for 25 years of employment at the Georgia International Horse Park, including with a watch gifted by Mayor Randy Mills. Debra Curry of the police department's communication staffed was recognized for five years of service.

-Mayor Mills issued a "National Telecommunicators Week" proclamation, thanking the city's emergency-response operators and staff. In another proclamation, he declared April as "Safe Digging Month," for the city's work on avoiding accidental damage to underground utilities.

-After the meeting, the council entered an executive session to discuss "potential litigation."