The plan to rejuvenate the city with a central destination for shopping, dining and living, includes a $38 million mixed-use development at the corner of Watts Drive and Main Street in downtown Kennesaw.
At Thursday night’s town hall meeting, Mayor Mark Mathews repeated much of his State of the City speech titled “Let’s Build It.”
“The face of Kennesaw is changing,” Mathews said. “You all hold onto your seat because it is going to be exciting.”
The Main Street development is composed of more than 250 “luxury” rental apartments, with one, two or three bedrooms, as well as 11,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.
The Atlanta-based developer, South City Partners, is the same firm that designed the West 22 apartment complex targeting KSU students on Cherokee Street. South City will break ground in March on the new downtown project.
Construction is expected to last between 15 and 18 months, which means more residents could be parking and shopping downtown by summer 2015.
Bonnie Worley, who first lived in Kennesaw in the late 1970s, moved back to the city four years ago and Thursday night attended her first town hall meeting hosted by Mathews.
Worley said she is not concerned about college students and young adults moving into the city limits and supports having more commercial options downtown.
“It’s not our first area we head to,” Worley said. “I would like to see the corridor from Main Street to (the Interstate) or Cherokee Street addressed.”
Worley lives in the area and said many of the old homes on that stretch of road have been rezoned for commercial use, but are not being well maintained.
At the town hall on Thursday, Mathew said as other developments spur visual improvement within the city limits, other businesses already operating “are going to have to step it up to stay alive.”
He also said Kennesaw “will reap the benefits” to the tax base once the projects are up and running.
A long-awaited project
Since 2000, Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh has owned Eaton Chiropractic off Main Street, one block from the redevelopment site.
Welsh, who is finishing her second term in office, said for 15 years Kennesaw residents have been promised a rejuvenated downtown, which is a major reason she ran for the City Council.
“We needed to get shovels in the dirt,” Welsh said.
But before construction could begin, a 5-acre plot of land had to be assembled that required negotiations with four different property owners.
Welsh said the assemblage began before she was on the council, while she was chair of the Kennesaw Development Authority.
The KDA purchased the assembled land with funds from a $2.8 million bond issuance approved by the council in 2009. Welsh said the focus for years was on ensuring landholders were willing to sell and a developer was able to buy during the down economy.
“I have 100 percent faith in their ability to pull this off,” she said of the South City Partners.
Now that the project is certain, the next focus is how to fill the space with tenants offering shops and restaurants that residents would want to patronize. Welsh said the “high-end condominium grade” apartments are what market studies show younger generations want.
“The millenials don’t want to be tied down with a house payment,” Welsh said.
Welsh said the development will be infused with unique boutiques and restaurants, not franchises or box stores.
Although Welsh doesn’t know what businesses will be moving in, she personally is hoping for a “growler pub” where patrons could taste beer brewed by local companies.
She also suggested a wine bar with tapas, a mix of small plates and appetizers, and a cafe with high-end desserts and coffee.
One bond retired, another issued
On Wednesday, The KDA closed on the sale of the property to South City Partners for slightly more than $3 million, which will be used to pay down the entire 2009 bond debt, including interest accrued by the city, said Bob Fox, economic development director for Kennesaw.
Behind the residential and retail development, the city will construct a five-story public parking, adding at least 300 on-street and deck public parking spaces.
“You are not going to see the deck from the street,” Welsh said.
The spaces in the deck will be split between the apartment renters, diners, shoppers and Kennesaw residents needing to park near City Hall.
On Monday night, the Kennesaw City Council voted unanimously to enter into an intergovernmental agreement and issue more than $6 million in bonds for the acquisition, construction and installation of the parking facilities.
The Urban Redevelop-ment Authority has the legal and financial ability to issue bonds on behalf of the city, without a vote by residents, to assist with the expansion of local industry.
One man at Thursday’s town hall, who wanted to remain anonymous, and said he attends every council meeting, was not aware of how much city funding was being used for the deck.
But the unnamed man said he supports more activity being spurred downtown instead of the commerce going to other areas, as it is now.
The man and his wife said they were concerned about the added traffic the Main Street development will cause, but that the parking is needed for city events. They also said businesses have stayed out of the city because of the lack of parking spaces.
On Tuesday at 7 p.m. in City Hall, the URA will sign documents to become the title holder for the parking deck property. Based on current bond market conditions, the bond total is expected to be $6.3 million, Fox said. Debt service on the new bond will be paid for by court service funds the city accumulates annually, Fox said.
The Court Service Improvement Fund generates about $380,000 annually, with $180,000 used each year to pay off debts from the City Hall expansion. A portion of the remainder will be allocated each year to fund the parking deck debt.