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The Historic Senoia Project Turns Redevelopment into Prosperity for Small Town

By Elizabeth Elstien

Just 25 miles from Atlanta lies the Historic District of Senoia. In decline for decades, the downtown area had dried up with only five businesses on Main Street by 2006. Clearly, something had to be done to grow and revitalize this small town. The five families that owned most of the undeveloped historic-district real estate agreed that Senoia Enterprises, Inc. would purchase 22 vacant properties within three months. Suddenly, a development business was born to "develop a comprehensive revitalization plan for period- and historic-looking infill construction and, hopefully, set a renaissance in motion," says Scott Tigchelaar, President of Senoia Enterprises, Inc.

How does Tigchelaar fit into this development project? Let's step back and take a look at some area business history. Tigchelaar moved to the area from Canada in 2003 to run his Uncle Paul Lombardi's motion-picture studio in Senoia known as Raleigh Studios-Atlanta (formerly Riverwood Studios). The studio, built in 1989 by his uncle and now deceased Great Uncle Joe Lombardi, frequently used the town as a backdrop for films such as "Fried Green Tomatoes". Tigchelaar and Lombardi formed Senoia Enterprises to spearhead the purchase and development known as The Historic Senoia Project.

To develop the land to its full potential, Historical Concepts was hired to come up with a redevelopment plan for the downtown area. Infill construction commenced in 2008, and leased up steadily in spite of the ensuing economic recession. In 2011, Tigchelaar's brother-in-law Brian Jagt bought out Lombardi's interests in the project, and Tigchelaar and Jagt now oversee Senoia Enterprises' new infill projects.

Today, there are more than 50 businesses on Main St. "We have just broken ground on 15 new retail spaces, another restaurant and 10 residential lofts; all the commercial space is already pre-leased," Tigchelaar states. "Main Street is thriving," continues Tigchelaar, "and any additional infill space leases up before it's even constructed."

Two of the Project's new or restored historic homes - part of partially completed The Gin Property - were featured in Southern Living magazine as Idea Homes in both 2010 and 2012. In a never-before-done move, the magazine chose to showcase Senoia homes twice, attracting more than 30,000 visitors to each home and showing how the town has leveraged its redevelopment to its advantage.

Today, Senoia's Historic District is fast becoming a live-work destination. By foregoing the big-box and chain stores and providing a variety of commercial (office, retail, food) and residential spaces, The Historic Senoia Project has created a town with its own character and community. The popular television series "The Walking Dead" is even filmed here.

To sum up the town's appeal, Tigchelaar tell us: "People in town know each other, share a collective interest in Senoia's renewed prosperity, while at the same time valuing its preservation. You get to know the shop owners, the restauranteurs and your neighbors. It's like taking a step back in time. I believe that's attractive to people." Just don't get eaten by zombies.

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About The Author

Elizabeth R. Elstien has worked in real estate for over 15 years as a real estate...

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