At Thursday’s committee meetings, city leaders also recommended allowing the city’s first food truck lot and expanding a downtown farmers market.
Marietta’s Economic and Community Development Committee recommended changes to the city’s Urban Redevelopment Plan to allow an area bordered by Delk Road to the north, Terrell Mill Road to the south, Cobb Parkway to the west and Interstate 75 to the east to be included in a state opportunity zone. The amendment would need approval from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
A report, presented by Beth Sessoms, the city’s economic development manager, said the sluggish economy and changing demographics have led to problems in the area since the original redevelopment plan was approved in 2009.
“Over the years, we are seeing an increase in crime in that area,” Sessoms said.
The area is located just south of an existing opportunity zone near Franklin Road, which has 15 blighted apartment complexes built in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Since the city first applied for opportunity zone credits, brand-name hotels have moved out, leading to places like the Marietta Hotel at Franklin Road and Northwest Parkway, which advertises $25 a night rates, moving in. Another motel is expected to arrive soon because a Days Inn at 2129 Northwest Parkway is scheduled for the October foreclosure auction. Sessoms said this has contributed to businesses moving out of the nearby Northwest Business Center, which has seen its occupancy rate drop from 96 percent in 2007 to an average of 69 percent occupied since 2010, and Newmarket Business Park, which has gone from a 94 percent occupancy rate in 2008 to 52 percent over the last three years, Sessoms said.
The area suffers from transient foot traffic, prostitution, loitering and drug transactions, she said.
A public hearing will be needed before Council can approve the opportunity zone expansion, which would give state tax credits of $3,500 per employee to businesses for five years.
Mayor Steve Tumlin said the city applied for opportunity zone credits for some of the area south of Delk Road in 2008, but didn’t get approved. But, since then, the community affairs department has become more likely to approve requests.
“They’ve learned to adapt to it,” Tumlin said. “They were waiting to see the economic impact.”
Tumlin said businesses located in the Delk Road area have pressured the city to help make additional tax credits available.
“There’s still some quality owners and some quality real estate developers and they’re seeing what a major advantage the opportunity zone is,” Tumlin said.
The city is also likely to allow the site of a stalled development to become the home of Marietta’s first food truck lot. Council is considering a request from Walton Communities to allow food trucks to operate from 5 to 9 p.m. on Mondays at Meeting Park, a 12-acre property near Marietta Square that was hailed as a cornerstone for downtown development until the economy crashed and it entered foreclosure. Walton has sought to build apartments on the site, but the city wants to see its ratio of apartments to purchased homes go down, not up.
Food trucks have become popular in recent years, with Kennesaw and Smyrna each hosting weekly food truck nights, while Atlanta has a daily food truck park. Greg Smith of the Atlanta Street Food Coalition said his group is looking to have up to eight vendors each week at the food truck lot, with rotating food choices. Portable toilets would also be installed during the events.
Council is expected to vote on allowing the food trucks at its Oct. 10 meeting.
“If we approve this at our next Council meeting, can I go out there the next Monday?” Councilman Johnny Sinclair asked Smith.
“Can you give us two weeks?” Smith said.
The Council will hear the results of a study on a new recreation center at its Oct. 8 work session.
The city paid FourSquare Research Inc. $28,000 in June to survey about 600 people on what the best uses are for a new facility planned for the site of the Elizabeth Porter Center on Montgomery Street between Cole and Allgood streets. That building will be torn down to make way for the larger facility.
Council has earmarked $3.75 million for a new recreation center as part of a $25 million parks bond approved by voters in 2009.
Sinclair, chairman of the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Committee, said the survey takes into account what amenities are in the surrounding area. He said a major gym is planning a location in downtown Marietta, so that could impact what goes in the recreation center.
“With that in mind, that makes us think, ‘Let’s not build anything the private market is going to build right next door,’” he said.
Sinclair said the proposed gym’s owners asked him not to reveal the name of the company building the facility.
Initially, parks director Rich Buss said the research consultant wanted to surprise the Council with a presentation during the upcoming work session, not telling them what is in the study before it is announced to them. But Council members insisted on getting copies of the presentation in advance.
“If there’s any resistance, you might remind her who’s paying the bill,” Councilman Jim King said.
The parks committee also considered expanding the city’s Saturday Farmers Market to the holiday season. Johnny Fulmer, manager of the market, is asking Council to allow him to operate the normally warm-weather market on Saturday’s from Nov. 24 to Dec. 22.
“Traditionally, the farmers market kind of shuts down in the winter time, but it’s become such a tourism draw,” Sinclair said.
In a letter to Buss, Fulmer asks the city to close Mill Street between the CSX railroad tracks and West Park Square from 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the market, which would be open from 9 a.m. to noon.
“The intent is that more offerings will generate a bigger crowd and give people more incentive to linger a while longer in the downtown area,” Fulmer wrote.
Meanwhile, the Public Works Committee recommended a plan for a treescape on Church Street, just north of the Square, which will put in willow and elm trees that are tall enough to let people see the signs on downtown stores. It will also widen the sidewalk along Church Street. The city estimates the plan to cost between $151,000 and $226,000.
Councilman Philip Goldstein showed photos of trees that he took in North Carolina, showing how shorter tree canopies can block advertising signs.
“When you have a low-canopy tree, it’s going to block the sign — I don’t care what you say, you’re talking life or death for businesses,” Goldstein said.
But Councilman Grif Chalfant questioned why Goldstein is participating in the discussion on the treescape, since he is one of the largest property owners on the Square.
Goldstein insisted that the only thing he owns in the part of Church Street that would get the treescape, located between Mill and Polk streets, is the building that houses Shillings on the Square, which he owns in a partnership.