At issue is the Nov. 5 vote to approve or reject the investment of up to $68 million in a bond issue that has the potential of alleviating or eliminating some of the city’s most intractable challenges. The heart of Mayor Steve Tumlin’s initiative, if approved by voters and with the support of the City Council, would be to use the largest portion of those dollars to purchase the most blighted and problematic apartment complexes along Franklin Road.
All of us living in the city are aware of the crime problems and the stress on our school system that are due to the run-down apartments along the Franklin Road corridor. What was 20 years ago a thriving mixed-use community is now threatening the fundamental economic base of the city. Business after business has moved or closed. Like others along Franklin Road, Parkway Center, Marietta’s only Class “A” Office Space and the city’s largest taxpayer, struggles to maintain occupancy. It is not because of lack of quality, but rather the reputation, deserved or not, as being a “bad” area.
At the heart of the problem are the numerous rundown apartment complexes on Franklin Road.
Now we have the opportunity to make a change. With a minimum impact on our property tax rates, we have the opportunity to buy these run-down apartment sites, tear them down and prepare them for private-sector re-redevelopment. Bond dollars will also be available for significant improvements to roads, sidewalks, and parks in other parts of the city. As re-investments are made by the private sector, the city’s tax base will expand, allowing for tax relief for our homes and businesses.
When weighing how to vote, there are two significant questions consistently asked by residents. The first is what will happen to the existing residents of these Franklin Road apartments? The second is can we all feel assured that our dollars will be invested and expended in accordance with private-sector business standards? In short, will city involvement and management be kept to a minimum?
As to the first, no one will be abandoned in this process. The Marietta Housing Authority, which has a proven record of excellence in closing old public housing complexes and moving residents to equal or better locations, will head the efforts to relocate every single resident from purchased and closed properties to equal or better housing in our community.
As to the second issue, the city is already in the process of identifying and hiring private sector management for the entire project. This will provide the expertise to make sure our dollars are being invested and utilized to the highest standards of private industry. In short, the Mayor and Council will identify priorities as they should, and the implementation will be left to private management.
While there is always risk involved in great endeavors, I applaud Mayor Tumlin and the City Council for being willing to dare to dream “big.” Yes it is our tax dollars, but the upside potential is enormous for Marietta.
Some argue that the bond amount is too high or too low. While there is no correct answer to this question, it is the amount recommended and approved by The Mayor and City Council. As such, the question is now moot.
Additionally, while we all wish that we were in better economic times to make this kind of investment, the reverse is also true. Now is our best chance to eliminate much of the most blighted areas of the City at the cheapest cost possible. It is also true that it would be preferable if private enterprise could resolve these issues by itself. Unfortunately, this simply has not proven to be true given the challenges, particularly along the length of Franklin Road.
Given its location along US Interstate 75, Franklin Road can and can be an enormous asset for our city. If, however, it continues to deteriorate, we pay the cost in closed businesses, declining tax revenues and crime. If this bond is approved, we have the opportunity to reverse this slide.
A “Yes” vote for revenue is never easy. It is much simpler to accept the status quo and vote “No.” On the other hand, if we are willing to approve this bond and invest our tax dollars now, we can help continue to build the Marietta that brought all of us here today and will attract the generations of tomorrow.
Former state Sen. Chuck Clay is an attorney in Marietta.