Restaurants May Soon Serve You on Decatur’s MARTA Plaza

Have you ever dreamed of a romantic outdoor dinner in Decatur accentuated by the (very) occasional rumble of MARTA trains below your feet?  Another interesting blurb from this month’s Decatur Focus in the “Focus on Downtown Development” section…

We are currently working with restaurant owners around the MARTA plaza to provide table service on top of the plaza.  The plan would bring more tables to the square, provide an amenity on the plaza and remove some of the sidewalk table congestion along the Sycamore Street area.  Participating restaurants will identify their tables by different color umbrellas.

Restaurants must agree to keep the area clean, and secure table and chairs and store umbrellas at night.  All tables must be removed from the area during designated festival events.  As part of the agreement, some table be designated for public use and participating restaurants agree to secure these tables and store umbrellas each night on our behalf.

I wonder how many tables we’re talkin’ here.

35 thoughts on “Restaurants May Soon Serve You on Decatur’s MARTA Plaza”

  1. Sounds like a great idea!…for spring and fall…

    Not going to find my rear end anyplace other than an AC’d building this time of year!

    All for it though.

  2. I think this is a great idea. It will make the top of the plaza look like some of the European squares I am fond of. Something like this:

    It might be a good idea to keep the umbrellas open all day to block the sun from the ground. The plaza can be like the desert during the late afternoon after the sun is on the ground the whole day and the heat radiates back out.
    Maybe some tents like this might work better than umbrellas:

  3. The Marta Plaza seems like the perfect place for something like the food truck Thursdays down at the Woodruff Arts Center. More and more Decatur businesses are jumping on the food truck bandwagon (Ducks, Marlay House, etc), so it seems appropriate to have them represented here. Could help the plaza area become even more exciting and vibrant.

    1. I like the idea, though I’m not sure how keen plaza restaurants would be to outside competition. Perhaps some sort of table fee/lottery system could be employed to ensure fairness for all parties involved?

    1. Another way to look at it might be that private enterprises are putting up the money and the labor to make the square a more interesting place and a more desirable draw, which fulfills a city goal yet requires no tax expenditure. Furthermore, I’d venture that these types of creative and incremental partnership efforts in Decatur are a significant part of why our property values have largely held — even increased in some cases — while many other areas have suffered.

      It just depends on how tight a definition of “compensation” you’re looking for.

      1. I understand and share your general aversion to the “not fair!” argument, but reconcile this for me, if you would.

        Many Decatur residents and business owners want more activity on Decatur Square.
        Sycamore restaurants would like more table space on the Square.
        Some residents would like food trucks on the Square.

        So why do the restaurants’ preference get the green-light, while the food trucks idea never sees the light of day? Both are valid ideas for our public spaces, no? Don’t commercial and residential interests often differ when it comes to public space? (Think: Decatur Courthouse controversy circa 1960s) Who should make this determination? (Perhaps one is currently legal and one isn’t?)

        I totally understand the tightrope that the city has to walk regarding this sort of thing, but I still have trouble with this.

        1. I was assuming food trucks weren’t part of the conversation because there’s no practical way to drive a bunch of trucks up onto Blount Plaza.

          That particular aside, however, I think food trucks (or any other venture) should be afforded equal opportunity to work with the city towards the goal of enhancing public space. If they come up with a good proposal, then great for all of us. Plus, if restaurants make use of the plaza in this instance, it’ll be easier in the future for the city to deflect their potential opposition to food trucks, essentially saying “You got yours. Now someone else is getting theirs. It’s not unfair.”

          I hope the truck folks take some ideas to the city and see where it goes.

          1. I wasn’t suggesting putting Food Trucks on BlOunt Plaza (O is capitalized since I never get the spelling correct), though we could provide tables for Food Trucks on the plaza – no?

            I was mainly talking about the use of public space in general. And since I keep hearing second and third hand that our brick and mortar restaurants don’t like the idea of food trucks anywhere near the Square, I feel like it’s a bit “cake and eat it too” to take over portions of the public space that you wish to deny to others. I dunno…

            1. “I feel like it’s a bit “cake and eat it too” to take over portions of the public space that you wish to deny to others. I dunno…”


            2. That’s essentially what I said. Opening Blount Plaza to restaurant tables allows for future “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” decision making. Restaurant complaints about food trucks will no longer carry such idea-killing influence. We can find all kinds of creative programming and uses for public space that, comprehensively, benefit residents and businesses alike.

              1. Eh….Do you think the restaurants know that they’re giving up their “idea-killing influence” with this move or do they just see it as shifting the sidewalk space they’re already entitled to up a level?

            3. According to the blurb you posted, some tables would be set aside for public use so those could be used for food truck food if a practical solution for where to put the trucks could be found.

    2. Agree with your concern, Tom L.

      Also hope the space is not compromised for public use. A lot of non-diners use that space – parents with strollers, toddlers and young kids burning off excess energy, dog-walkers, teenagers and adults just hanging out and talking, and so on.

      I’m glad to see the City’s recognition that restaurants have taken over way more than their share of the Sycamore sidewalk, but I’m not sure that giving them space on the plaza is the right solution. In the evenings, it’s hard for two adults to walk side-by-side down that restaurant/bar stretch of Sycamore (a supposedly public space). Same situation exists in the commercial area on the east side of the old courthouse.

      1. I, too, enjoy the bold, open nature of the plaza with its central fountain, interesting views, and perimeter bench seating.

        Perhaps the gazebo could be set aside for dining.

  4. This is an excellent idea! The square desperately needs some life, and people eating, drinking and laughing is the beginning of that transformation. The idea about extra, public tables is fabulous. Most famous public squares have something like this; it will bring more people and commerce to the area.

  5. Having healthy activity on the square might also address the issue of drug selling to high schoolers. It’s hard to do something illicit when your friends’ Moms are nearby sipping iced tea and waving to you! I realize that illicit activity just moves elsewhere but I prefer elsewhere to on our new plaza. Making illicit activity inconvenient and not on one’s route home from school seems like a good idea.

    1. How serious is the “drug selling to high schoolers” issue? How big an issue is it really? And won’t tables just give drug dealers a more comfy office? And I don’t think using the area for a dining room is going to do anything to the issue, if there even is something big enough to address.

  6. I share others concerns about taking away the true public nature of the MARTA plaza space. A few restaurant tables would be OK but I wonder how few it can be given the number of restaurants very near by who are likely to want space. I would hate to see the entire plaza area covered with tables . So often I see families with small kids enjoying that area around the fountain.

    I wish the City would just eliminate the parking area between Brick Store/ Squash Blossom etc. and the old courthouse. This would be the best spot for outdoor restaurant tables. Leave the plaza open for non customer pedestrians to enjoy the bench seating and the fountain.

    On a related issue – The City needs to have some sort of ordinance governing restaurant tables – or any other outside tables/chairs/benches – on the sidewalks. Tables should not block pedestrian traffic flow. This is a problem in areas besides Sycamore. (Ted’s & Chocolate Bar come to mind) . Outside seating is a great thing but there must be enough room remaining for 2 way pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk. Not sure what they proper dimension would be but it should be established and then protected by (enforced) city ordinance.

    1. I agree, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, both round-about parking lots should be turned into green space and restaurants should be able to use some of the space. Also, by turning those round-abouts over to the square, the space will actually be more square. 🙂

  7. I think that this is a great idea. It will be very exciting to see diners on the plaza just like plaza’s in Eurpoe.

    I do think, however, that there should be some sort of ordinance drafted regarding how many tables, where they can be located, how far they can extend into the “public” space.

    I think there is room for everybody. From my experience, there is very little going on and very few people utilizing the space unless there is a festival or concert going on and that’s a shame.

    Let’s have dining on the plaza but lets make sure we do it right!

  8. Once upon a time I lived in a country where the custom was to close certain streets at night, with restaurants setting up cheap tables and chairs. Waiters from both brick and mortar restaurants and street food vendors went from table to table taking orders. A table of four could order from six different places. e.g. A person could get an appetizer from Siam Thai, tapas from The Pig, a beverage from Brick Store, and desert from The Chocolate Bar. Street vendors could be added to the mix, though I would want them subject to the same regulations and various taxes as other restaurants.

    1. Broad Street in downtown ATL does this once a week during the summers, it is great! Though it is a serve yourself kind of deal- works well.

  9. “I wish the City would just eliminate the parking area between Brick Store/ Squash Blossom etc. and the old courthouse.”

    Though this sounds good in theory, what about the handicapped spots? Also, I know a few elderly people who do not come to Decatur now because they have to walk too far from parking.

    1. How many handicapped spots there – 1 or 2 ? I imagine there could be a way to work those in to a design for a pedestrian area.

      In my opinion the best way to accommodate elderly visitors who do not have handicapped parking permits would be some type of shuttle service running between available paid parking areas and the square.

      My own parents make this same complaint about Decatur – no parking , too far to walk. I’ve come to see that they are unhappy with anything less than front door, free parking.

    2. Strip out half the parking spots and make the remaining ones all handicap, and widen the sidewalk (but keep the restaurant tables within their current boundary–don’t let ’em creep outward!). Doesn’t solve the dilemma for the elderly. I agree with Fifi that only a shuttle might solve that issue. Would be nice if all of us who are able-bodied took to parking as far away from our destination as we are able to walk (instead of as far away as we are in the mood to walk). I periodically resolve to do so and find that walking farther is worth the decreased aggravation of searching for an parking empty space. Of course, it’s a lot tougher to be so high-minded in weather like this!

      1. And when you are dragging along miniature sullen monsters that for some crazy reason call you “mom”.

    3. “I wish the City would just eliminate the parking area between Brick Store/ Squash Blossom etc. and the old courthouse.”

      I have seen a variation of this comment tons of times and it seems like such a great idea. Is this even on the city’s radar? It’s hard to believe it wouldn’t be.

  10. Maybe there could be spaces for food trucks in the lot in front of the courthouse. People could sit at the picnic tables and aforementioned public tables.

  11. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will change the kill zone architecture of the Marta plaza short of a major redo. Trees and grass would be much better than umbrellas. Talk about lipstick on pig, but don’t get me started.

  12. Can we reserve the tables by the fountain for the kids section? And what is the smoking policy on the square. I’d probably be up for it if there was a no smoking policy before 10pm. (or better yet, no smoking on the square.). Ah and while I’m on a roll more tables should require/provide more bike parking.

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