Northeast Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell is now proposing that the county take a more pro-active approach in trying to rev up Canton Road. In a rare step, she appeared before the Development Authority of Cobb County on Tuesday to request it provide financial assistance for a nonprofit to be set up to help revitalize that corridor.
Of the 38 commercial sites in the county listed by the county last year as either blighted or vacant and in need of development, 14 of the sites were on Canton Road. In January she formed the Canton Road Redevelopment Committee, made up of stakeholders and county staff.
“(We) have expressed interest in getting more medical facilities 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 to the emergency room for something minor and wait.”
“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.”
Birrell told the board she is looking for funding of $25,000 to $100,000. Rather than the tax incentives and inducements that the Authority hands out to prospective new business and industry, the group she has in mind would dole out smaller amounts as seed funding. It would be similar to a rotating loan fund, according to Cobb economic development director Michael Hughes.
“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. … “It’s gap financing, for lack of a better word. It helps to close a gap for a business that has an interest in locating.”
Cobb hasn’t exactly ignored the area. It has already spent more than $4 million in SPLOST dollars on street and landscape improvements. And businesses there can take part in a rehabilitation incentive program that lets qualifying businesses receive tax abatements on money they invest in their properties.
Birrell says her proposal would be an additional sweetener. It got a favorable reaction from the Authority, and she will now draw up a formal plan for her grants committee. There’s no question that if the grant program is approved, that it and the committee should be subject to the state’s sunshine laws.
At first blush, her proposal looks like a low-cost way of encouraging revitalization in an area that badly needs it. And if it helps, the idea could be transplanted to other such Cobb corridors, of which there is no shortage.