Listen to the full episode on South Georgia Insider Podcast “A City Without Limits: Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson”
In a recent episode of the South Georgia Insider Podcast, Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson is talking about how the “City Without Limits” is continuing to grow its infrastructure, create a vibrant downtown, and move forward in a fiscally responsible manner.
Before his official swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 9, 2020, Matheson met with residents concerned with a massive wastewater spill, which happened in early December.
“I realized that the people in that room had been talked to but not listened to,” he says. “We had been telling them our timeline and telling them our monetary commitment but hadn’t listened.”
To demonstrate his commitment to keeping the waterways clean and preserved, Matheson helped create the Mayor’s Paddle, now in its second year.
A topic of concern for decades, the City of Valdosta has invested millions of dollars toward sewer rehabilitation projects and new construction.
Matheson says the wastewater infrastructure represents an “all-in commitment” from the city and represents an economic advantage in recruiting new industries.
On March 13, as the emergence of COVID-19 began to sweep across the U.S., Matheson recalls being notified that the school systems were shutting down in response to Gov. Brian Kemp’s declaring a public health emergency.
As the statewide shutdown coincided with the annual Azalea Festival, Matheson says he had concerns and met with festival organizers.
“For three and half hours, we agonized and walked the park and talked about the pros and cons,” he says. “Again, remember at this point, we didn’t have much education [about COVID-19].”
One of Valdosta’s signature events, the Azalea Festival, located in Drexel Park, draws between 20,000 to 30,000 people.
The decision to cancel was not easy. “We made the right decision that night,” he says. “A year removed, and with eyes wide open and people starting to get vaccinated, I am glad we held it this year.”
Matheson explains some COVID lessons learned included the importance of a strong team.
“Teamwork, don’t think you’re the smartest man on the planted, don’t think you’ve got all the answers,” he says. “Even in that move, I had Ashley Tye to lean on, Commissioner [Bill] Slaughter, the other mayors, the Department of Public Health was unbelievable, Dr. [Brian] Dawson at South Georgia Medical Center, and Moody Air Force Base.”
It was more than a health and economic crisis, Matheson says, it was also a developmental and mental health crisis. “We had to factor the isolation of children in developmental years. We had to get every bit of information and move correctly.”
Matheson is working with city council members and local leaders on various projects. On March 19 and 20, the City of Valdosta completed its 2021 Annual Strategic Initiatives Summit, and Matheson says it was a chance to get together and remind everyone that “we are all on the same page.”
“We are moving the city forward in a very fiscally responsible manner,” he says.
At the top of the list are infrastructure and transportation projects, including a possible second water treatment plant in the city’s south end.
During COVID, the City of Valdosta accepted a Georgia Tech Smart Communities Grant to have the traffic signals equipped with smart technology.
“It’s like a first alert system,” Matheson says. “All 128 of the city’s traffic lights are now synced. We have a transponder that all of our first responders have in their vehicles that can change the lights as they go through.”
Since taking office, Matheson has been advocating for a reliable, cost-efficient transit system. “It was my platform when I ran [for mayor], and I wanted to do it responsibly.”
The City of Valdosta launched its In-Demand public transit system on April 27 to provide Valdosta residents with convenient and affordable public transportation options.
Using a mobile app or cell phone, residents can access Valdosta On-Demand within the city limits.
Matheson says transit is a significant issue within the community. “Food deserts are real here. The disconnect for healthcare is real here because they can’t access it. To have the freedom to go where I need to go, when I need to go, especially in an emergency situation, they can.”
For economic development, it’s a game-changer for the workforce to have reliable transportation.
Matheson says in 2022, the Georgia Department of Transportation will start construction on the Jerry Jones expansion and two roundabouts in the Five-Points area.
Downtown revitalization continues with the construction of an amphitheater across from City Hall. A two-phase project, with an open area for people to bring their chairs and blankets. Construction has started and is expected to be completed by mid-October. The second phase will include a water feature and space and utilities for food trucks.
All aboard! Matheson is working toward bringing a passenger train to downtown Valdosta. “We started talking about a short line and dreaming about revitalization and what it could do with an activity trail right beside the rail we would bring into downtown. With the history of Valdosta’s rail, it really started to get us excited.”
Matheson was connected to Jamie Cater and Chris Parrott, owners of CaterParrott Railnet, which operates regular freight service and recently started the Azalea Sprinter for tourist operation based in South Georgia.
While still in the planning stage, Matheson says there are public/private partnership opportunities, and he believes the project will create significant revitalization and become a regional tourism draw.
Listen to the full episode on South Georgia Insider Podcast available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, and iHeart Podcast or at https://southgeorgiainsider.buzzsprout.com/