Fewer than 400 voters made the difference in Tuesday’s election, giving Marietta the go-ahead to proceed with the largest non-utility related bond issue in the city’s history. Turnout was 18.5 percent of eligible voters.
The successful referendum gives the city permission to borrow up to $68 million for the purchase and raze aging apartment complexes along Franklin Road. The land will be sold to private developers who would be expected to redevelop the sites.
Hiring a guru with the finger on the pulse of the Cobb County real estate market is the first “major step” in making the redevelopment a reality, said Tumlin, who was re-elected by an 80 percent margin Tuesday.
On Wednesday night, City Council will vote on whether to award Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle the contract out of the seven companies that applied.
“We cannot go too much farther without the consultant,” Tumlin said.
If approved by the council, the company would help market property the city purchases and would court developers interested in the area.
The consultant will not be a city employee, but would work under a two-year contract with the city and will be paid from the bond. No contract has been negotiated yet and the city has not approved a cost for the contract, though the company would be paid hourly for some services and on a commission for others.
About 54 percent of voters in Marietta had enough confidence in the city’s leadership to agree to raise their property taxes to fund the bond payments, but those voters still don’t know exactly how much more they’ll be paying.
Depending on how much of the $68 million is borrowed, the bond could increase property taxes by 2 mills for up to 20 years. That means the owner of a $200,000 home would see a tax increase of $160 per year and the owner of a $400,000 home would pay $320 more, according to the city.
Tumlin says estimating the tax increase has been “more trouble than its worth.”
Some residents have been skeptical about an increase of 2 mills, and Tumlin says he’d rather plan for the high end of the range.
“Since we’ve been beaten up about two mills … I’m not going to second guess,” Tumlin said.
Beth Sessoms, director of economic development for the city, estimates it will be about two months before the city knows what interest rate it will get.
Tumlin says the city has multiple options for how it will get the money and may take from its reserves to fund property acquisitions before the bond is finalized.
Some cash already set aside
About $12 million of the $68 million the city is allowed to borrow already has a purpose.
City Council unanimously voted in late September to place a 386-unit Franklin Road apartment complex under contract for $7.9 million.
Councilman Johnny Sinclair made the recommendation to put the 25.2-acre Woodlands Park Apartments, at 861 Franklin Road just off I-75, under contract.
The city has until the end of the year to close on the deal, and Tumlin hopes the apartments will be razed by August 2014, giving families time to move before school begins.
There’s a willingness to sell, Tumlin said, and his goal is to purchase four or five more apartment complexes.
“We’re very actively giving people the opportunity to sell to us,” Tumlin said.
But apartments aren’t the only focus on Franklin Road.
“We want to buy some complexes, maybe a hotel here or there, so we wouldn’t spend all of the money on apartments,” Tumlin said. “We want to spread the joy. Some of the key areas are not necessarily apartment complexes.”
Whitlock waiting for sidewalks
Another $4 million is dedicated to sidewalk and streetscape improvements along Whitlock Avenue.
Tumlin can’t say if that will take six months, a year or two years, but expects it to be one of the quickest projects the city will undertake.
“That could almost happen under the normal course of business,” Tumlin said.
But more long-term road improvements are also part of the plan.
It’s the “lowest priority,” but Tumlin says new roads could be added to connect Franklin Road to Interstate 75 and U.S. 41.
He also hopes an additional exit ramp from I-75 will draw more metro Atlanta residents into the area he envisions as a commercial haven.
If Gov. Nathan Deal’s reversible toll lanes along I-75 and I-575 are successful, Tumlin wants the city to cash in.
“If this gets the political clout that I hope it will, I hope that we can petition the DOT to put a ramp from Franklin Road,” Tumlin said.
Marietta already stands to gain two extra ramps from the governor’s project at I-75 and Roswell Road and I-75 and Terrell Mill Road, said Jim Wilgus, city engineer.
Response from the business community
In all, Tumlin hopes to be seeing results from the bond in the next five years. It’s his vision that sidewalk and streetscape improvements on Whitlock Avenue will be finished, properties will have been bought, razed and sold, and developers will have scooped up some parcels and be preparing them for their next life within five years.
But he’s being careful not to stick to a tight timeframe.
“I cannot guarantee you a timeline, never have and never will … you would just be making it up,” Tumlin said.
It’s a project that could inspire the business community to come together and create the county’s third community improvement district.
Those districts are self-taxing areas created by the state Legislature that use taxes for improvements to their community. The Cumberland CID and Town Center Area CID have seen some success in the self-taxing model.
Tom Browning, chairman of the Downtown Marietta Development Authority, is expecting a ripple effect that will help out the Marietta Square and the rest of the county.
Pointing to an economy still recovering from the throws of the Great Recession, Browning said now is an ideal time for the city to be attempting a revitalization.
“The people have voted, and it’s a great vote of confidence, for the visions of the mayor,” Browning said.
Next steps for the Franklin Road bond
• Hiring a real estate consultant
• Financial closing on the 386-unit, 25.2-acre Woodlands Park Apartments, 861 Franklin Road.
• Razing Woodlands Park Apartments
• Beginning sidewalk and streetscape improvements along Whitlock Avenue