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Jun. 16, 2019
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Growth and connectivity shapes Flowery Branch

By Pamela A. Keene
 
A new administration building that houses City Hall, the Flowery Branch Police Department and community space signals the beginning of change for the South Hall town located at the shores of Lake Lanier. Add to that more food and beverage outlets, retail and events in the historic downtown and Flowery Branch is well on the way to redevelopment.
 
“One of our priorities is to make infrastructure improvements and do more than makeshift repairs,” said Mayor Mike Miller. “For instance, we had to address the old sewer pipes that were three different sizes and made out of three different types of material. Culverts on Flowery Branch Creek collapsed and washed out the road, and we had storm-water issues downtown. We feel we’re well on the way now.”
 
The 18,000-square-foot all-brick $5 million City Hall opened last spring. It’s the new home of the city’s government and includes a large community room for meetings and events. The Flowery Branch Police Department has brand-new offices as well.
 
In partnership with the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, downtown Flowery Branch has begun hosting Third Friday Block Parties from May through October on Main Street, featuring musical entertainment, food, fun and games, including food trucks. A winter farmers market takes place every first and third Saturdays at Railroad Avenue from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Looking ahead
City Council has plans for more improvements. “We have a project list and it includes more improvements to downtown for pedestrians,” Miller said. “The advantages to creating connectivity between downtown and Lake Lanier have us looking at the best ways to do this, including pedestrian pathways. In fact, we have discovered that of all the municipalities on Lake Lanier, Flowery Branch has the closest downtown to the lake. It can certainly be a marketing peg for us.”
 
By adding more restaurants and retail, more people will be drawn downtown. “Connecting Flowery Branch Park and Hideaway Bay Marina to downtown will give boaters a safe way to dock and take part in downtown,” he said. “We may even have bike rentals or other activities within the next 18 to 24 months.”
 
Karen Ching, owner of Liberty Candy Company downtown, has been a strong supporter of downtown. She recently completed a new building that features a craft beer store called “Beer Me.” Her son, Robert Sabbath, and Marc Stampfli co-own Beer Me, with 25 craft beers on tap. Last year, Ching also opened Lakeside Market with gourmet products, prepared food and imported cheeses. “Karen has been a big part of the downtown redevelopment,” Miller said.
 
City Council has been studying ways to revitalize Flowery Branch’s downtown, known as Old Town. It recently completed a study to explore options of ways to move forward. “In some of the towns we’ve studied, we’re finding that to be successful, the mix between retail and residential should be 20 percent residential and 80 percent retail,” miller said. “Right now we’re just the opposite with 80 percent residential and 20 percent retail. Our goal is to get to a 50 percent split.” 
 
Residential growth is picking up with apartments and single-family homes being built along Phil Niekro Boulevard at Thurmond Tanner and at the corner of Gainesville Street and McEver Road. “We’re a real hot spot, because people seem to want to leave the congestion of Gwinnett and come up the road,” Miller said. 
 
Most recently, the city has explored new residential/retail possibilities on one side of Main Street. The Residential Group, based in Atlanta, has proposed redevelopment of one side of Main Street, between Railroad Avenue and Church Street, replacing the existing buildings with a 2-story structure with 7,700 square feet of retail space on street level and apartments on the second floor. Several citizen meetings have been held to discuss the proposal by The Residential Group in December. And the project was appoved by the council on December 20. 
 
As the home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, Flowery Branch got the attention of Atlanta, Georgia and the nation. Now, the city is poised for even more growth and development, not necessarily to become bigger, but to become a safe place where people want to live.

Meet mayor and golf pro Mike Miller
Mike Miller is an interesting man with a diverse background. He’s been a school teacher, a musician, an athlete and a politician. In his two most recent roles – golf pro and mayor of Flowery Branch, he’s making a difference in and around Lake Lanier. 
 
“My kids think I play golf all day,” said Miller, who is the PGA Head Golf Professional at Lanier Islands. “Being a pro is much more than getting out on the course. I manage Lanier Islands Legacy Golf Course, but much of what I do is administrative, from overseeing the pro shop to teaching lessons.”
 
Miller didn’t set out to be a golf pro; nor was being mayor on his radar when he went to Georgia Southern University, then earned his undergraduate degree in music education from Columbus State University. He plays the trombone. “I had planned to be a music teacher; in fact I taught music for 13 years in the school system.”
 
The Columbus native taught elementary, middle school and high school in Newnan, Dahlonega and in Gwinnett County before turning to golf as a career. “I was still a music teacher when I took a part-time job to pay for my golf habit,” he said. “It worked well with my teaching schedule, but I soon found myself working more in golf. And when it really came down to it, I considered the possibility of a career in golf.” 
 
About 13 years ago, Miller and his wife Diane moved to Flowery Branch. He worked at the Old Atlanta Golf Club in Suwanee. “I got into the PGA program to become a pro, which requires bookwork and playing tests, learning the rules, how to teach and run tournaments, food and beverage, club repair, plus how to manage a golf course – the business side of golf.” 
 
Miller earned his Class A PGA Professional Certificate, which put him in good stead to work at Lanier Islands and become a Pro full time. When the Island’s Brian Conley accepted the position as general manager at the Bobby Jones Golf Course last fall, Miller was the natural choice to step into the head pro role at Legacy Golf Course. Sounds simple. Right? 
 
But in the meantime, Miller successfully ran for an open seat on the Flowery Branch City Council; he was sworn in on January 1, 2010. A short four months later, he was chosen by his fellow council members as mayor pro tem when the city’s former mayor pro tem resigned in May. Less than a week later, Miller was named interim mayor, serving until September 2010, when he stepped down to run for mayor in the November election. He won that vote and in 2013 was re-elected. He’s currently serving his second full term, having won re-election again in November 2017. 
 
“My public service really started out as a right place right time and I am so honored to be able to serve the people of Flowery Branch,” he said. “Flowery Branch is a safe community for raising children, and one of my priorities is to continue to have a safe city. Another is to improve the infrastructure to keep up with the growth of this area. 
 
“So many things that the council and I have envisioned are coming to fruition,” he said. “This is indeed an exciting time for the city.” 
 
Miller has managed to balance his full-time career as a golf pro and his work as mayor, but he said he doesn’t have much time to hit the links these days.  “If you want to play golf, don’t get into the golf business,” he said with a smile. “It’s a rare day when I can get out and play.”

Posted online 12/26/18

 
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