While a group of city employees, elected leaders and Smyrna residents are trying to determine the future for the site of the former 726-unit, 48-acre Hickory Lake apartment complex on Old Concord Road off Windy Hill Road, a host of other properties remains on the city’s books.
Mayor Max Bacon said he doesn’t intend for the city to get into the real estate business, but the purchases were about controlling the city’s destiny.
“My philosophy is not to go out and buy a lot of property when it comes available and try to hold onto it until you find somebody,” Bacon said. “These properties, all four of them, they all became available and there was an opportunity to do something with the property that was going to make our community better.”
Councilwoman Terri Anulewicz agrees. The city can’t control what happens on private property, she said, but it can control who purchases these sites when they come available.
Finding a buyer
Two properties representing about $9.75 million remain in the city’s possession and off the property tax rolls. The city is trying to find an owner for the Hickory Lake apartment complex it purchased for $9.5 million and spent $3.3 million demolishing. A property, intended to be a retail center at Dunton Street and Concord Road but containing only the 15,000-square-foot steel frame of a building that was never finished, also remains in limbo until a new use can be created by a willing developer.
“It has been sort of eyeball abuse on the people who live over there, but I think there’s a lot of potential at that site,” Anulewicz said of the property that was overgrown before the city took possession.
Eric Taylor, city administrator, says it was purchased with no intention of redevelopment but was put on the market at the urging of downtown development officials. Several offers have been received but no sales have been finalized.
Originally on the market for $450,000, Smyrna paid just over half of that at $250,000.
It was a safety concern, Taylor said, with the steel frame left unprotected and elevator shafts exposed.
“We just knew it couldn’t be (left) in that condition,” he said.
Councilman Corkey Welch represents that area, but he doesn’t have an outcome in mind. The neighborhood is largely residential, he said, with a few nearby commercial properties. He doesn’t want the new use, whatever it may be, to disrupt the community.
“I’m not concerned whether it’s a commercial or residential property as long as it’s neighborhood friendly,” Welch said.
Anulewicz maintains the city now has a hand in controlling its destiny.
“Somebody could have come in and put Bob’s Liquor Emporium there,” she said.
A more concerted effort is being made to find the next use of the 48 acres where the apartments once stood. It was purchased in an effort to improve Windy Hill Road.
The group of elected leaders, residents and city employees, known as the Smyrna Grove Redevelopment Task Force, met Monday to review offers but took no action. It plans to present a report to the mayor in September outlining potential uses.
Councilman Wade Lnenicka chairs the committee and says they are exploring all options – public and private.
“It became available and available at a price that made sense,” said Jennifer Bennett, city spokeswoman.
Apartments find new life
Hickory Lake isn’t the only apartment complex to be purchased by the city. Smyrna Commons was once a 144-unit complex but will take on a different life this school year as Smyrna Elementary.
Unlike its counterpart Hickory Lake, the original idea wasn’t to purchase the entire complex for redevelopment. The city had to buy part of that property to build a connecting road between Ward Street to a new commercial development, called Belmont Hills, at the corner of Atlanta and Windy Hill roads, Taylor said.
But when the complex went up for sale, the city jumped on it. The Smyrna Downtown Area Development Corp. spent $4.6 million for the property that will also provide public recreation space.
Anulewicz says Smyrna Commons was expensive to the city because of the code violations it presented and the public safety concerns it provoked.
It’s not easy to change the future of an apartment complex, she said.
The properties are financed in a way that makes it difficult for a buyer to change its use because they are financed as apartments and must be used as apartments.
“We had one shot to buy that,” Bacon said.
Bacon’s only grievance is that the city did not know about the school board’s interest in the property until it had spent more than $2.5 million in renovations.
“We would have never renovated those buildings,” Bacon said.
Now, developers of single-family homes are taking interest in the area because of the elementary school and Anulewicz says she doesn’t regret the purchase.
“I wholeheartedly 100 percent view purchasing those apartments as an investment,” she said.
SPLOST pays for property
Another 6.3 acres representing 22 parcels on Concord Road were purchased by the city between 2007 and 2011 for improving the road. This time, though, the money for the $5.75 million purchase came from special purpose local option sales tax funds.
The city has discussed some redevelopment options with a few developers but no offers have been accepted.
“We needed to make Concord Road a much safer road,” Taylor said.
The project was envisioned almost 15 years ago, Welch said, because of problems with traffic on the road. The absence of left-turn lanes led to traffic backups and created an unfriendly environment for pedestrians.
“I just believe that it will be a much safer and much more beautiful thoroughfare through the city,” Welch said.