The council’s Economic/Community Development Committee, comprised of council members Johnny Sinclair, Anthony Coleman and Chairman Grif Chalfant, voted 2-1 to advance the $68 million bond proposal to the full City Council for approval July 10.
Coleman dissented, saying he wanted to stay at the $35 million amount because the project could “blow up in the city’s face.”
The council on May 30 unanimously voted to place a $35 million bond on the Nov. 5 ballot with $4 million for Whitlock Avenue streetscape improvements and $31 million for Franklin Road properties. If passed by council July 10 and by voters Nov. 5, the additional $33 million would go entirely toward the redevelopment of the Franklin Road corridor.
Councilman Philip Goldstein, who did not have to vote but was asked about his stance by Chalfant, said $35 million is “sufficient” and would result in a 1.2 mill property tax rate for 20 years.
The council will present a public meeting on the bond July 10 at 7 p.m. before taking a vote to increase the bond.
Residents not paying their way?
Mayor Steve Tumlin said at Wednesday’s meeting that the larger the amount of money the city asks for voters to approve, the better chance the redevelopment of Franklin Road will have to succeed.
“The first thing we have to do is load our economic gun,” Tumlin said.
Councilman Jim King said his “bullish support” during the entire process of proposing the redevelopment bond has been based on advice given to the council that it is a good location and a good time to act.
King said there are “under-producing properties up and down Franklin Road” and it is time to “push the precious real estate to produce at the tax base (the area) ought to be at.”
Chalfant said existing apartments on Franklin Road house a large amount of people in a single location, meaning city services and the Marietta City school system must meet a high demand without a large enough contribution in taxes.
“You don’t get your value out of them,” Chalfant said.
Goldstein said the discrepancy in covering service costs is part of Marietta having an urban environment and that not everyone is going to live in a single-family, owner-occupied home.
“Folks do have to live somewhere,” Goldstein said.
Funding the development
The $33 million increase in funding for the redevelopment bond came after an independent firm advised Tumlin and the council that a 2 mill increase would produce $68 million, not $35 million.
Beth Sessoms, the city’s director of economic development, said the Franklin Road project must be a proposal that’s expensive enough “to affect change in the corridor.”
But, she said it is hard to estimate exact costs without a list of willing sellers and interested buyers.
Sessoms said the original $35 million amount was enough to purchase four to five apartment buildings out of the 11 in the Franklin corridor.
Sessoms said businesses wanting to relocate to the area have asked the city about the availability of 30-acre, 40-acre or even 50-acre tracts of land, but Marietta has nothing to offer.
Chalfant said the increase in funding could allow the city to create a stretch of continuous property that can be sold to a new business.
Teresa Finister, the city’s bond attorney, reminded the council that any proceeds from the sale of properties can go to purchasing additional properties, or be held back to repay the bond debt.
A third option, Finister said, is using the profits from a sale toward any other city expense, since that newly acquired money would no longer be considered part of the original bond amount and can be used at the council’s discretion.
Chalfant started the discussion Wednesday by asking the council, “Are we out here to buy it all or are we out here planting the seeds?”
Goldstein said the Franklin Road area is a “sizable track of land,” on which some complexes are well maintained and “should not be touched,” while others have “low-end value” and should be removed.
He reminded his colleagues that condemnation cannot be used to purchase land as part of the original bond.
Because a sale by property owners is voluntary, a high price might mean the city will have to walk away from a deal during negotiations, Goldstein said.
Chalfant said if the city gets one corporation to commit, others “will pay to move in.”