“Our intent is to try to accelerate the redevelopment process, as opposed to just waiting for it to occur naturally,” said county Chairman Tim Lee, who noted the redevelopment process won’t be as effective if it continues at its current pace.
One major proposal on the table is a plan to purchase dilapidated properties in south Cobb, demolish them and sell the land in an effort toward revitalizing the area.
The practice is known as “land banking,” when parcels of vacant or abandoned properties are acquired by public or private entities to bring the property back to productive use, generating tax money.
South Cobb often lags behind the other three corners of the county in terms of safety, economic growth and education, officials say. In 2013, police and fire officers responded to 735 emergency calls along a single stretch of road in the region, said county spokesman Robert Quigley. That road — Six Flags Drive — hosts one apartment complex, known as a “priority redevelopment site” that alone drew 237 responses. He said the county could save $34,889 in public safety dollars every year if action was taken on the priority redevelopment site.
Lee said he considers land banking a potential panacea for south Cobb’s challenges.
“I think it’s a viable option for any area that has circumstances that make it a viable solution,” Lee said.
Dana Johnson, deputy director of the Cobb Community Development Agency, said the main priority of any such effort would be to rid the area of tax delinquent properties.
The Cobb Board of Commissioners would need to create a land banking authority, Johnson said. The county has also discussed whether the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority could take on a similar role.
“The goal on this is to set the stage for south Cobb where private investment can easily flow to help transform the community,” Johnson said. “Our interest is to really just use whatever actions are necessary to make sure private capital flows to our area of Cobb as opposed to other areas.”
The exact mechanism used to fund the efforts has yet to be decided.
“We’re just looking at our options at this point,” Lee said.
The chairman said money for the project could come from a wide range of sources — such as bonds, special districts or county reserves — but decisions about funding sources are still in preliminary stages.
“(The South Cobb Redevelopment Authority is) exploring the ways in which they could do it,” Johnson agreed.
The mission, he said, would be to clean up south Cobb by purchasing, not condemning, blighted properties.
Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who represents south Cobb, said she has heard the discussion about increasing the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority’s role and thinks a type of land banking “is a viable option.”
The most recent efforts by the community group have included a marketing campaign to rebrand the area known for its high crime rates and dilapidated properties.
Cupid noted the effort has inspired many studies and plans for south Cobb.
“Waiting on the market to move on its own is not going to give us the kind of results people are looking for right now,” she said.
Initially, Cupid said any money for land banking would come from federal grants.
“In the end it all comes down to money,” Cupid said. “To land bank properties, you need to have some resources to use for that effort.”
Even though it would not begin as a Cobb-funded project, Cupid said the effort will take all of the county pouring attention and money into south Cobb.
She said south Cobb requires a large amount of resources for public safety and code enforcement, which is not met by tax money generated from shuttered businesses across the region.
If selling large acres of land drives redevelopment in places such as Mableton and Austell, then the southern portion of the county could also one day meet “the quality of life people expect in Cobb,” Cupid said.
Cupid said she has been heavily involved in the development of south Cobb, but mostly through the zoning process, which occurs one parcel at a time, one building at a time.
Cupid said it’s time for a large measure to produce results across multiple vacant strips of land, which could “change the look at an entire corridor and change the community in a much broader scale” if it was successful.
In November, Marietta residents voted a $68 million property tax hike into effect in order to fund a similar strategy along crime-ridden Franklin Road.
Since then, the city has purchased two complexes under the redevelopment bond, totaling $20 million, including the 386-unit, 25.2-acre Woodlands Park complex and the 348-unit, 24.3-acre Flagstone Village Apartments. City officials plan to raze the complexes and sell the land to developers in order to revitalize the region.
Lee told the Marietta Daily Journal in January that South Cobb Redevelopment Authority officials view Marietta’s move as “reconnaissance” to gauge the true cost and impact for redeveloping the Six Flags Drive corridor in a parallel manner.
South Cobb residents are “looking for gathering places,” Cupid said, including restaurants, coffee shops, movie theaters and miniature golf courses.
On a larger scale, Cupid said Mableton and Austell should benefit from having a large tourist attraction such as Six Flags Over Georgia, which should spur the development of hotel and conference center space.
Cupid said quick access to downtown Atlanta and proximity to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport should also be a pull for “Class A” professional office space.
And even though south Cobb is more of the industrial part of the county, Cupid noted local residents need accounting offices, legal services and banking options.
Still, the region continues to be plagued by economic stagnation and elevated crime rates. The best way to tackle some of those issues is to “remove blight,” according to Johnson. He said this type of remediation can sometimes necessitate tearing down failed structures to make way for fresh ones.
Johnson described a strategic partnership between the county and the South Cobb Redevelopment Authority as a possible solution to the problem.
Officials said the private sector would also play an important role in whatever action they take. Lee listed several steps the county was taking toward stimulating economic growth in struggling quarters, such as job credit opportunities and incentive ordinances.
Johnson agreed the goal is to bring south Cobb’s struggling commerce “back to a market reality.”
One south Cobb resident said jobs have yet to return to the region in the wake of the recession.
“I want it to grow. The economy took a real bad hit,” said Robert Wilson, 52, who has lived in Mableton for the past 10 years.
Wilson said relief will take a county-led effort because local businesses do not have the money to invest.
“It is just going to be slow building. People just don’t have money these days,” Wilson said. “(The county) is going to have to do some real searching to find what will work for us.”
— Rachel Gray contributed to this report