The study, presented Monday to the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority board by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute, said Mableton suffers from a perception problem. Janet Bozeman, an attorney with Hyatt & Stubblefield, said much of the problem is a result of issues in other parts of south Cobb, particularly the Six Flags area, which has a large transient population and high crime rate.
“Mableton suffers from a poor reputation, and the reputation really ought to be associated with the other guys next door,” said Bozeman, a member of the Urban Land Institute Atlanta District’s Technical Assistance Program committee. “I hate to say it, but in a lot of ways, for Mableton to move forward, Mableton needs to disassociate itself from the surrounding area.”
Redevelopment authority Chairman Ford Thigpen, president of Westside Bank, said there are different views of negative impacts on the community.
“That’s in the eye of the beholder as to what potentially could harm Mableton,” he said. “There are definitely some perceptions of Mableton that people have that are not true. It’s going to be up to our body or another champion to combat those perceptions or overcome them.”
Bozeman said bodies like the Cobb Board of Commissioners, and even the redevelopment authority, can have conflicting goals, so a government focusing on Mableton is needed.
While the possibility of incorporating as a city or a township (which isn’t currently allowed under Georgia law) was raised, discussion focused more on Mableton becoming a CID, like the Cumberland and Town Center. The study, paid for using $7,500 in grant money awarded to the ARC, recommended that another study, this one focusing on the feasibility of a Mableton CID, be conducted within 1 to 3 years.
“CIDs actually have more advantages compared to a city,” said Bill de St. Aubin, who served as moderator of a panel that interviewed Mableton stakeholders to put together the report. “The CIDs can move a little quicker, operate a little more independently than a city.”
Other panelists who worked on the report for the Urban Land Institute included Stephen Arms of Marthasville Development; Brendan Barr, NorSouth Constructs; Sharon Gay, McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP; Michael McLaughlin, the city of Morrow’s economic development director; Ellen Mendelsohn, Reznick Group PC and Betsy Sheppard with Gilbert & Sheppard Group.
Among the stakeholders the panel interviewed in April were former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Mableton native and large property owner in the unincorporated community; Commissioner Woody Thompson; State Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Austell), developers Denis Blackburne, David Knight and Beth Hawks; Jerry Thompson, owner of Martin’s Restaurants; as well as representatives from the Cobb County parks and library systems, the Mableton Improvement Coalition and the South Cobb Arts Alliance.
Redevelopment authority board member Darhyl Watkins, a consultant with Deloitte, said he would have liked to have seen a broader group of residents interviewed.
“They were very strong people, but with the role you see a lot of churches in the community play, I would like to have seen someone involved from one of those,” he said.
In order to create a CID, someone must first create boundaries for the proposed district, said Marietta attorney Lynn Rainey, who represents 14 CIDs in the Atlanta area. They would then need written consent of at least 50 percent of the commercial property owners and people who own 75 percent of the commercial property in the district. In CIDs, commercial property owners taxed themselves to fund transportation, parks and infrastructure improvements. Some businesses are not counted toward the total needed to sign off on becoming a CID, such as businesses that also have a residential component, and agriculture. Residents in the district’s geographical area do not pay the extra tax.
The Board of Commissioners would then have to pass a resolution creating the CID, Rainey said. They would then be responsible for appointing a board member and calling for an election of the other CID board members by business owners within the district.
While he didn’t know whether or not Mableton would support a CID, Rainey said not every location is appropriate for one.
“You have to consider whether or not the assessed value of the property is sufficient enough to raise enough revenue for a CID to be viable,” he said. “That’s a fundamental.”
Still, Rainey said that CIDs do not necessarily need to be as large as the Cumberland or Perimeter CIDs, which have regional shopping malls and corporate headquarters. In addition, direct interstate access isn’t necessary. He said the Lilburn and Evermore CIDs, both in Gwinnett County, are not located on major freeways.
“They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes,” Rainey said.
Bozeman said Mableton also needs to work on its branding, including having a website more like a city would produce, as well as signs letting people know they have entered the community.
“On my trip today, I saw ‘Welcome to Cobb County,’ but I didn’t really see ‘Welcome to Mableton,’ ” Bozeman said.
She said Mableton has assets to promote, like the Silver Comet Trail and access to Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, as well as Interstates 20 and 285, but people don’t know about them. In addition, it needs to overcome perceived challenges. Along with what’s seen as a lack of a leadership structure and identity, she said Mableton’s challenges include its schools and a dearth of community activities.
Watkins said the panel was “right on” with it recommendations.
“We’ve got to create a champion (for the community). I think we’re going to have to get the branding right,” he said. “Those are the places where we’re going to have to focus on. And we’re going to have to find the money. All the stuff they focused on was spot on.”
Other board members attending the meeting included Six Flags over Georgia general manager Melinda Ashcraft, and Ed Richardson, owner of Richardson Management Group LLC. Robin Meyer of the Mableton Improvement Coalition, ClesiaVentures owner Damon Duncan and ICG Real Estate Advisors LLC Chief Operating Officer Adrienne Lance Lucas didn’t attend the meeting.