“When I first got into office, I pretty much knew everybody in the room,” Bacon said to a packed room at the Smyrna Community Center on Thursday. “And fast forward 30-something years, and it’s good to see that we’ve got a good mixture of folks that have finally woken up and said, ‘Hey, Smyrna is the best place to live, raise your family.’”
Bacon said the city’s 2011 decision to purchase and raze the 728-unit Hickory Lake apartments turned out to be a wise decision. The city issued $15 million in bonds to purchase the 48-acre property at the corner of Old Concord and Windy Hill roads, using $9.5 million to acquire the property and the balance to raze it and pay interest costs. At one time, Bacon said those apartments were the best in the county, but over time they badly deteriorated and became a crime problem.
“Our paramedics, our fire department was over there every day,” Bacon said.
The mayor said police officers thanked him when the city tore the apartments down.
“They said it was the worst area in Cobb County, even worse than Six Flags. They said y’all did the best thing,” Bacon said. “When we did that, I promise you, it increased property values up in that area by 20 or 30 percent.”
The city renamed the property Smyrna Grove and has it under contract with Atlanta-based Southeast Capital. Bacon said the company intends to build an estimated 190 homes projected to sell in the $300,000-plus range.
“Those are single-family, owner-occupied,” Bacon said, noting he expects construction to begin within nine months.
“We probably could have sold it to a Wal-Mart or another large retailer, and guess what you’d have in 15 years?” Bacon said. “You’d have probably an empty 100,000-square-foot box that does nothing to help the surrounding community. I think by building single-family homes, that’s going to have the same halo effect that we had down here.”
Bacon doesn’t believe the city will immediately get back all $15 million from the sale of the Smyrna Grove property.
“But you know what we will do?” he said. “We will have invested back in our community a quality development that’s got single-family housing that will bring families to this area. They’ll be here a number of years, and I’d say probably 10 years, based on what we get for services that we charge, we will be even.”
After it purchased the apartment complex, the city’s bond rating was boosted from AA to AAA, Bacon said.
About a mile away from Smyrna Grove, at the corner of Windy Hill and Atlanta roads, was a 50-acre site owned by developer Jack Halpern. The site used to be Cobb’s first shopping center, Belmont Hills, which opened in 1950 and was razed in 2009, put out of business by such developments as Cumberland Mall, Bacon said.
One corner was purchased by the Cobb School District, where it built Smyrna Elementary School, which just finished up its first year.
“That has really been a big plus for us because it has sort of stabilized that area, and younger families are coming because they know Smyrna Elementary is going to be a good school,” Bacon said. “Hopefully, they won’t take the approach that they’re not going to send their kids to middle schools in Smyrna, because that’s what’s happening. We’ve got good elementary schools, but citizens here are reluctant to send their kids to middle schools or the high schools.”
Bacon said Houston-based David Weekley Homes, which purchased another part of the property, is building 154 single-family homes on the site.
“I think they’ll start out in the mid-$200,000 and go up to the $400,000s, that’s according to them,” he said.
Halpern buys Jonquil
Halpern also recently purchased the 11-acre site at the corner of Atlanta and Spring roads. The site housed the former Jonquil Plaza shopping center, which was razed and primed for a $110 million development until the recession struck. Bacon said Halpern hasn’t yet submitted plans for what he intends to do with the site.
“He believes we’ll work with him and he’ll work with us, and we’ll have a great product once it’s all said and done,” Bacon said. “I still think a Publix-type grocery store should go there, because there is not a grocery store on Atlanta Road from the Square in Marietta to 285. That’s amazing. People keep saying Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s. If the numbers work out, those folks will be there.”
A Zaxby’s is under construction at the corner of the site where the former Exxon gas station used to be.
A Sprouts Farmers Market is also under construction at the corner of the East-West Connector and South Cobb Drive.
The Atlanta Braves
Bacon said he is a fan of the Braves moving to Cumberland, right down the road from his city.
“I personally think you’re going to see a lot of current property in that surrounding area. I think it’s going to be redeveloped,” he said. “I think it’s going to be good. I’d much rather have the Braves here than have to drive to Birmingham to watch the Birmingham Braves or drive to Charlotte to watch the Charlotte Braves.”
Turner Field was built for the 1996 Olympics, Bacon said.
“They built that stadium, and they’ve had 20 years to improve that area. When I go to the Braves game and get out of my car, I run into the stadium. When the game’s over, I get out. I run back to my car,” he said.
Fortunately, he has not been mugged, he said.
The city will also see a new recycling center built on Lake Drive in the next 90 days.
The property and facility are expected to total about $1.6 million, according to the city.
“We have a real small recycling center that’s right directly behind the fire station on Smyrna Hill Drive,” Bacon said. “It is so small. It is inadequate. We have just outgrown that place probably 10 years ago, so it is very much needed.”
Bacon mentioned the city was considering lowering its millage rate from 8.88 mills to 8.7.
“We have the opportunity to do that,” Bacon said. “The economy is getting better as we all know, I think.”
Councilwoman Teri Anulewicz, who was among those in attendance, said Smyrna is enjoying quality growth.
“So many things went on hold in 2008 and now everything is just really beginning to revive again. And I think renaissance is a great term to describe what’s happening in Smyrna both with residential and with commercial development,” she said.
Others in attendance were Mayor Pro-Tem Melleny Pritchett; Councilman Ron Fennel; 11th Congressional District hopeful Bob Barr, endorsed by Bacon; Ann Harris, who is running for Cobb Superior Court judge, also endorsed by Bacon; Democrat Erick Allen, who is challenging state Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) in the November election; Cobb school board hopeful Susan Thayer and Cobb Chamber CEO David Connell.