Commissioner pitches her bid to revitalize Canton Road
by Jon Gillooly
July 18, 2012 01:21 AM | 6497 views | 20 20 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell identified 14 sites she would like to include in her revitalization plans.<br>Staff/File
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell identified 14 sites she would like to include in her revitalization plans.

MARIETTA — In an unusual move, Northeast Cobb County Commissioner JoAnn Birrell went before the Development Authority of Cobb County on Tuesday to request financial assistance to help revitalize the Canton Road Corridor.

The Authority’s board members, while encouraging her efforts, asked her to bring back more information.

Birrell said the next step is to form a nonprofit and bring a formal proposal to the Authority’s grants committee in the next month or so. The grants committee is chaired by Authority member Bob Morgan and includes members Thea Powell and Donna Rowe.

Last year, the county government identified 38 commercial sites that were either blighted or vacant and in need of redevelopment. Birrell wants to target 14 of those sites in her district, which span along Canton Road from the Marietta city limits about four miles north to the Cherokee County line.

“Some of the sites are old gas stations that have been empty and vacant … and some are new buildings that just haven’t been occupied,” she said.

Birrell said she formed the Canton Road Redevelopment Committee, which is made up of stakeholders in the area and county staff, in January.

“The committee has expressed interest in getting more medical because of the proximity to Kennestone,” she said. “An urgent care (facility) … would be a good fit for that area rather than having to go the emergency room for something minor and wait.”

The county has already spent more than $4 million on street and landscape improvements in the area, paid for with SPLOST funding, county spokesman Robert Quigley said.

“Now the next step is to bring business back to Canton Road and revitalize that area,” Birrell said.

Birrell wants the Development Authority to give seed money to a yet-to-be-formed nonprofit and for that nonprofit to then use those funds to lure businesses to the area, she said.

“We don’t want to go through the county,” she said. “We want it to be a separate organization. Maybe a nonprofit or 501(c)3 that could accept grant money and maybe even get state grants in addition to what we may get approval for here.”

It’s one thing for the county to fund such things as road improvements and public safety, but “I don’t think it’s appropriate for the county to be funding loans or funding business,” Birrell said after the meeting, commenting on why she wanted to form the nonprofit.

Michael Hughes, the county’s economic development director, suggested that Birrell’s nonprofit could work as a rotating loan fund program. The size of the loan would depend on whether it’s for operating capital, new construction or operation of land.

“Facade and building renovation is probably one of the more common uses of these types of revolving loans, the terms of which can vary as well,” Hughes said. “If you’re talking about working capital, the term of that is generally three to five years. If you’re talking about loans for equipment, that’s up to 10 years and obviously talking about real estate that’s 15, 20 years out.”

Small loans are from $1,000 to $10,000, a midsize loan is from $25,000 to $75,000, and a larger loan is from $100,000 to $250,000, he said.

Birrell said she was looking for $25,000 to $100,000.

“It’s gap financing, for lack of a better word,” Hughes said. “It helps to close a gap for a business that has an interest in locating.”

Businesses in the corridor can already take advantage of the county’s rehabilitation incentive program, a county program that allows businesses that qualify and that increase the fair market value of the property in question by at least 50 percent to receive tax abatements on the additional money that they invest in the property, Quigley said.

Birrell views the rotating loan program as another “sweetener” to help lure quality businesses to the area.

Rowe applauded the proposal.

“I am extremely concerned about where we are going if we don’t do this,” Rowe said. “We’re going to start attracting the kind of things we don’t want to attract.”

Authority Chairman Don Wix said the Authority has $1.2 million in its accounts, but he would not support giving all of that to Birrell’s group.

Powell said the concept of using some of the Development Authority’s funds directly in Cobb County is an excellent one.

“How we achieve that I think has still not been determined,” she said. “I’ve been researching local authorities as well as others, and typically it is handled through the Development Authority.”

Birrell said she would return with a formal plan for the grants committee.

“Really, we’re at your mercy,” she said. “We’re asking you for a handout here.”

Birrell said her committee was not subject to Georgia’s Open Meetings laws and wasn’t sure if the proposed nonprofit would be covered by those laws either. Even so, she pledged to give a full accounting to the Development Authority of whatever money it gave her.

Birrell is a former member of the Authority, having been appointed to it by then-commissioner Tim Lee in 2006. She served until April 2010, when she ran for commissioner herself.

Lee, who was not at the meeting, said he’s never seen a district commissioner go directly to the Authority to ask for grant funding outside the current economic development process in place.

“I think (the development authority) needs to go through the due diligence to make sure it’s a great opportunity like they do with every other grant opportunity, but I don’t have a problem with her pursuing it directly,” Lee said. “You’ve got to remember, I was the guy that started the whole Canton Road redevelopment concept 10 years ago. When I first ran for district commissioner it was to address that, and I’m the one that did the Canton Road Corridor Study and all that kind of stuff 10 years ago. She’s basically picking up where I left off, and I appreciate that so very much that she’s kept the focus and the emphasis on redeveloping Canton Road because I think it’s a prime jewel of Cobb County and needs to be addressed. I think her experience on this Development Authority gives her some insight, and I think she’s thinking outside the box to try to help Canton Road move along.”

Citizen committee members on Birrell’s Canton Road committee include Andy Campbell with Columbia Properties, Carol Brown with Canton Road Neighbors, Chuck Martin with Arylessence, Clarice Spica with Baybreeze, Don Westbrook with Elon Salon, Frank Wigington of Frank Wigington Landscape, Mike Wickes with Community Bank of the South and Blackwell Elementary School principal Dr. Maurine Kozol.

In other business, Nelson Geter, the authority’s executive director, said several projects could come before the Authority in the next month or so for a bond deal.

“We have one that we’re working with the city of Marietta that would potentially create 70 new jobs and about $5 million in capital investment,” Geter said. “We’ve got another one that we’ll probably get the bond deal on for about $6 million and create about 85 jobs and it’s an implementing equipment manufacturing company.”

Geter said that company is eyeing a northeast Cobb location.

“And then we have another $5 million deal potentially, and it’s a technology development company that will create about 25 jobs (in the Cumberland area), so hopefully within the next month or so we’ll get those deals coming to the table for us,” he said.

Geter declined to reveal the names of the three firms when asked after the meeting.

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - News, Sports, Classifieds, Businesses in Marietta, GA

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Mark Schisler
August 06, 2012
I applaud JoAnn for her efforts to continue the good work that Tim Lee started on Canton Road. A suggestion I have is to finish the sidewalks down the busy highway, and give Pedestrians a place to walk. I also believe turning the seldom used rail road into a rails to trails path would be a great assett for the whole section. The path would be a welcoming connector from the Kennestone area all the way up to downtown Woodstock. I believe this would encourage more residential and commercial properties along Canton Road and would give businesses and families a reason to live work and play in the area. It's time to dream big and see the potential we already have!
July 20, 2012
I was born at Kennestone Hospital, grew up right off Canton Road, attended Sprayberry High School and have seen lots of changes on Canton Road!! I question JoAnn Birrell's judgement in her decisions regarding the revitalization of Canton Road. I'm sure her intentions are great, but she should reconsider her actions directed toward the current established businesses!!! I personally know business owners who have been established on Canton Road for over 25 years who feel they are being 'pushed' out!! Are you kidding me??? Ms. Birrell should work 'with' the established business owners and not 'against' them!!! I guess she could run off all the business and just plant grass and trees - that would be really good for the declining economy. A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. sums it up "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
July 19, 2012
Nickel and dime walking around money. All democrats do it. Some live off it.
July 19, 2012
Carol Brown stops any real revitalization of Canton Road not long ago a guy tried to invest 4 to 5 million in a building on Canton Road, Carol shot that down. Said he had outdoor storage it’s a landscape business. Home Depot seems to have outdoor storage all over the county. Home Depots store look like and industrial Park Bob Cat’s and heavy equipment all over the parking lot, plus they keep getting huge tax breaks. The bumper guy trashed up the nice old Clock shop and now has thousands of bumpers all over that property. Most of all Carol needs to look at her own house can you say revitalize plus her yard pollution in the front with a Timmy Lee sign; that will cost him so votes thanks Carol. Vote No July 31st TSPOST
Wildchild of Canton
July 19, 2012
Wow, so you are stalking Carol? You do know there is a law against it.

And get you facts right, the company has outside storage, what they wanted to do was have a loading area right along the R/W of Canton Hwy.

So before you start throwing rocks about stuff you do not know about make sure your house is in order.

July 21, 2012
Wildchild of Canton, stalking?

What a stupid thing to say. Are you Carol Brown?

Clear Need
July 18, 2012
I read a bunch of doubts and concerns in the posts here, but everyone does AGREE that Canton Rd needs work. So let's work on what we agree with, and give the Commish credit for clearly outlining the problem and being willing to lead. Bring on your ideas gang !
seen it all
July 18, 2012
well Marietta is improving the Canton Road/ Cobb Pkwy. (US 41) interchange along with a lot of street interchanges inside the city. But what happens when you cross the tracks? It looks bad there on. I remember when the gas station was designed by an architect for a fruit stand near Medford Funeral Home. The shopping centers were of the time great but winding down; along came mega malls; they are having problems now. There are the big box stores. IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO WHAT ATTRACTS THE BUYER AT ANY GIVEN TIME. THEY ARE LIKE WOMEN FASHIONS. THEY ALL GO IN CYCLES. What is in style today will not be next year. All you have to do is decide what is the next style by taking a poll of the people as what do they want.
July 18, 2012
Raze the whole thing and turn it into a long park with biking and jogging trails and sell concession licenses.

The existing strip malls aren't full because there is no demand to satisfy. It will never be a thriving business corridor when there are alternatives not 5 minutes away in either direction.

July 18, 2012
Hate to be negative, but this is going to be a very difficult initiative.

Canton Road's issues are primarily a result of bad zoning decisions and bad retail design that occurred some years ago (70's and 80's).

Those established development patterns are tough to change.

This is just a smaller version of the mess up and down Cobb Parkway.

The market is there (north central and northeast Cobb), but the corridor is going to require some major redevelopment before it attracts the type of uses that are going to bring potential consumers to the area.

A facade improvement here and there is going to accomplish much.

I think putting "Lipstick on a Pig" is the expression that describes what is being currently being contemplated.

The intent is admirable but the solution is going to be very difficult.

Good luck with this, particularly in the throes of a tough economic environment.
Tim Langley
July 18, 2012
STOP with begging for Government handouts to "attract business" to the/any area!

Instead, why not create a pro-growth environment in the county which includes LOWER TAXES and LESS GOVERNMENT!

Try this. Make it so that no one's property tax will EVER be raised UNTIL their property is sold. That would give a natural incentive to invest and improve property everywhere throughout the county whether residential or commercial.

Time to reign in this tax and spend era of Cobb County Government.
Try Again
July 18, 2012
We already have the lowest millage rate and smallest government in terms of budget and staffing metro Atlanta.
Kennesaw Resident
July 18, 2012
There should be absolutely no need to spend taxpayer dollars in the form of grants! Tax cuts should be the first incentive - not a handout.
Ignore Marietta End
July 18, 2012
The Canton Road corridor starts in Marietta where it looks like a slum with liquors stores and unkept property. Why would you not include the city portion as we are in Cobb County too? Particularly around the Sandy Planes and Canton Road intersection which has an old shopping center that with proper upgrades and better access could be a gem. Canton road is an opportunity but when you ignore the Marietta portion it just drags down the whole corridor.
July 18, 2012
How about because the county doesn't control, land use, zoning, and code enforcement issues within the City limits of Marietta
July 18, 2012
This is not the role of government. Enough activism.
July 18, 2012
Irked, So the government should not have developed Marietta Square? Are you kidding that is the role of government if the people want it. That's what government is for. You should go back to your cave.
July 19, 2012
If it had been up to "the government", Glover Park (the square) would be a parking deck.

It was the actions of the private sector that made The Square.

July 18, 2012
Guest Please, you are absolutely right.

More dopey government "thinking"(...from another chamber backed rino). I guess Birrell was inspired by how well Obamas money handouts to Solyndra and GM have worked.

The businesses are not currently in the Canton Rd area because they do not see an opportunity that makes business sense. Hand them enough free taxpayer money, and they will see a a business opportunity. But they will come in and stay only as long as the incentive continues (or requires, or not).
Guest Please
July 18, 2012
Well, please do tell this to the South Cobb poster that thinks South Cobb is the doom of Hades. This was said from a Northeast Cobb spokesperson: “Some of the sites are old gas stations that have been empty and vacant…and some are new buildings that just haven’t been occupied." I say you can't bring in businesses where they clearly don't see how they can survive.
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