Zombie-Powered Revitalization: “The Walking Dead” restores a historic Georgia town

Senoia (locals pronounce it “Suh-noy”) is a town in Coweta County, Georgia. Part of the Atlanta metropolitan area, its population is about 3400.

It was early 2013 in Senoia, Georgia—two years after AMC began filming their hit show The Walking Dead in a local studio—and Terry Pylant was standing in front of an 1867 farmhouse that years of neglect had driven to disrepair.

Restored farmhouse.
Photo credit: Historical Concepts

The owner had gotten it at a fire-sale price, but she and Pylant—a senior principal at Georgia–based architecture and planning firm Historical Concepts—were now confronting exactly what she’d gotten for her money.

The roof over the front porch was caving, the interior was gutted, and sagging floorboards were being propped up by stacked rocks. The contractor, Pylant recalled, had a simple solution. “Gosh, what this place needs is a match.

But Pylant, the new homeowner, and the whole town of Senoia had different ideas. They were in the midst of a long–term planning and development process that would ultimately restore and repurpose old buildings, revitalize the historic downtown, and bring a bunch of zombies out from the studio into the streets.

Today that farmhouse has been rehabilitated and still stands. Meanwhile, the set for The Walking Dead has grown to encompass the town itself.

The show’s safe haven of “Alexandria, Virginia” is actually The Gin Property, a residential development of brownstones. And the historic main street, now bustling with shops and restaurants, has played the show’s fictional town of Woodbury.

As recently as the mid 2000s, though, Senoia was facing a very different fate. The Walking Dead has undoubtedly brought life to Senoia.

Rotting flesh has been very good for the town of 4,000 where the recruiting slogan is “The perfect setting. For life.” Fans travel 30 miles south from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to fill local tour groups. They pack local restaurants during the heat of filming.

In 1998, there were 8 businesses in downtown Senoia. Today, over 50. Photo credit:
Mikefairbanks via Wikipedia.

Senoia has long been home to film shoots such as Driving Miss Daisy, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Kevin Costner’s The War in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “Georgia had become known as a cheap, easy place to film,” says Scott Tigchelaar, the president of Riverwood Studios, Inc. “If you wanted to get out of New York and Los Angeles, there was good weather and a diverse location base. Senoia was an easy town to turn into whatever the heck you wanted. It became a back lot for us because of proximity and availability.

His Raleigh Studios-Atlanta, hatched in 1989, used Senoia quite a bit. Then Canada introduced tax incentives to the industry and much film production went north. Wanting to get the local industry back on its feet, Tigchelaar and others at Raleigh Studios came up with ideas. They decided to partner with Senoia stakeholders in 2007 by forming a development company and buying the majority of the undeveloped land in Senoia’s Historic District.

The next year, Georgia did its part, passing an industry-leading production incentive. Since then, the state has seen significant annual growth in filming, jobs, and the economic benefits of production spending. The biggest result for Senoia has been The Walking Dead coming to the area.

Featured photo courtesy AMC

See NTHP artticle by Jared Foretek.

See official town of Senoia website.

See Arts Atlanta article by Jim Farmer.

See Atlanta Journal-Constitution article by Matt Kempner.

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