MARIETTA - U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) praised Mayor Steve Tumlin for spearheading a $68 million redevelopment bond for the Franklin Road corridor, saying he was carrying the torch of past leaders who made Cobb County a great place to live.
Isakson addressed about 285 attendees in September at the Hilton Marietta Hotel & Conference Center during an economic development forum.
"Your stepping forward on this issue that will be voted on this November is a continuation of the leadership that Cobb County has seen when there was a challenge and a time to do what was right," Isakson said. "And I'm confident it's going to be successful because we're going to take an area that is blighted, deteriorated, attracts crime, attracts not investment but temporary stops along the way, and turn it into the center, the epicenter of redevelopment and growth, not just in Marietta, but in Smyrna and Cobb County and in east Cobb, because it lies right in the heart of both."
Marietta voters will decide Nov. 5 whether to approve the $68 million bond. Marietta Board of Education Chairman Randy Weiner said if the bond passes, the tax increase on a home valued at $200,000 would be $65 annually.
"I go by Franklin Road as fast as I can every day," Isakson said. "One day soon I'm going to shop there because there will be a shopping center. I'll have customers who will have their offices there, there will be residents who have a condo there. Cobb County will be a better place to live because you and your City Council had a vision, took a risk and will make an investment."
Weiner, who also addressed the leaders, listed reasons for why the bond would help the school system. The apartment complexes along Franklin Road bring a population of public school students who are transient, based on the free rent promotions with little or no background checks, Weiner said. Such a population not only hurts the quality of life for its residents, it also hurts the school district's academic performance and graduation rates.
"The higher the mobility rate, the lower the schools perform," Weiner said.
Many of the children who live on Franklin Road enroll in the school system and then leave before the year is out, he said.
"Some students have been to 14 different schools by the time they reach the sixth grade," he said.
"This 1.1 mile stretch of road, houses approximately 1,150 students and is one of the most undervalued and underutilized roads in Cobb County with its close proximity to 75 and Highway 41," he said.
In 2012, the school tax revenue along the corridor generated about $800,000, yet it cost the district $6 million in local revenue to educate the students coming from Franklin Road. A light industrial complex, by comparison, could bring in about three times as much tax revenue as a current apartment building does now, Weiner said.
Political strategist Heath Garrett of Marietta said the mantra under the Tumlin administration is "Marietta is open for business."
"As we all know that prior to his administration our fine city may have gotten the reputation of not being the easiest to do business with, but nobody can say that about the city of Marietta since Mayor Tumlin has taken over," Garrett said.
Over the last three year years, the 1.1 mile Franklin Road stretch with 11 apartment complexes has seen more than 1,700 drug-related and violent crimes, Garrett said.
"The U.S. Department of Justice and all the major federal law enforcement agencies have designated Franklin Road as one of the highest concentrations of poverty and crime, not just in Cobb County, but in all of metro Atlanta," he said. "When you look at the dilapidation, the blighted properties, the foreclosed properties, the bankruptcies, we've lost over one million square feet of tenants in the buildings along the 1.1 mile stretch of road in the last five years on Franklin Road because of the crime and because of the concentration."
Garrett said it was the Bill Clinton administration that said in the 1990s allowing people to live in high concentrations of poverty, crime and violence was immoral. The most humane course of action is what the Marietta Housing Authority has already done in razing its federal housing projects and providing vouchers for the residents to live in neighborhoods that are not plagued with such problems, he said.
"Every family that gets an opportunity to go live in a new community out of those cycles of violence and poverty are grateful for the new opportunity," Garrett said. "We owe it as a community to not have those levels of concentrations of crime and violence anywhere in our community, but we also have to have a helping hand out for those families."
Titled Rebuilding Cobb's Future, the forum was organized by Cobb's Competitive EDGE, the Council for Quality Growth and Revitalize Marietta.
Other speakers such as Dale Kaetzler, president of Six Flags Over Georgia, and Bryan Crute, senior pastor of Destiny Metropolitan Worship Church, addressed redevelopment efforts in the Six Flags Drive corridor in Austell. Another guest speaker was U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the former mayor of Chattanooga, who spoke about that city's incredible redevelopment during the past 20 years.
Mary Ansley Southerland, owner of W.D. Little Mortgage Corp., a sponsor of the program, said she appreciated Tumlin spearheading the bond effort.
"We need it," Southerland said. "We need it desperately. To keep Marietta from dying on the vine and continuing to decline. I agree with what they're doing. The Whitlock Avenue improvements are very, very important. The numbers if you just look at tax revenue versus expense from Franklin Road are astounding and that can only help us all, and from a business standpoint, personally, I think it will help all of us. I'm a small business person here in town, and I think we'll all benefit from all the improvement set forth." ]]>