The Mount Berry area has been the hottest development district in Rome/Floyd County in the past eight years. And yet the resolution approved by Rome city commissioners by a unanimous vote Monday night solidifying foundation work for a third tax allocation district ignores that.
One of the key paragraphs in the resolution passed with basically no discussion in the marathon meeting states:
“The city of Rome finds and declares that the Mount Berry Redevelopment Area, as defined in the Mount Berry Redevelopment Plan, has not been subjected to growth and development through private enterprise and would not reasonably be anticipated to be developed without the approval of the Redevelopment Plan.” (see full text below)
Seemingly, more than $23 million in taxpayer-powered special purpose funds since 2012 plus private development and redevelopment up and down Martha Berry Highway within a half-mile to a mile of the entrance of Mount Berry Square mean nothing. Consider:
- The Armuchee Connector, a 2.2-mile loop from Martha Berry to Braves Boulevard, opens in May 2012 thanks to a $12 million investment in a special purpose tax OK’d by taxpayers.
- The building that was home to Circuit City next to Landmark Diner was successfully converted to two businesses, Dollar Tree and Party City in August 2012. Private development; no assistance; both flourishing.
- In September 2012, what’s now known as Hull Property Group buys the then-named Mount Berry Square for $6 million, around 20 percent of its peak assessed property value years earlier.
- Heritage First Bank opened a new branch in Armuchee.
- Taco Bell opened its newest store there in December 2014.
- In July 2016, the taxpayer-funded, $11-plus million Rome Tennis Center at Berry College opens.
- Jack’s Restaurant opens its first of two local stores in September 2016.
- DiPrima’s Shoes has removed part of its old building with work under way on an expansion just up from the mall site.
- RaceTrac is quickly building the community’s first mega convenience store at Armuchee Connector and Martha Berry. It replaces a building that most recently had housed several churches. Private funding; no assistance.
- Across the street, Goo-Goo Express Car Wash is preparing to open its third location in Rome, redeveloping a former oil change location. Private funding, no assistance.
- WOW Wingery & Cafe closes after 10 years with La Conquista jumping on the venue in a matter of weeks.
- And then there’s even the updates to the mall itself with Dunham’s taking over the former Proffitt’s anchor spot since the Hull purchase, upgrades to the food court and some other buildouts. And a new entrance sign that still has performance issues.
- Also not included: Continuing enhancements at the mall’s across-the-street neighbor, Berry College, including the addition of Valhalla stadium, upgrades to Sisters Theatre and other on-campus improvements such as the new entrance station.
- Not as close but also nearby: The Spires at Berry College, the new continuing care retirement community bringing 295 residences to Redmond, 188 of which will be independent living. Buildout value: $135 million to $145 million. That’s an increase of 300 to 350 residents by 2019-2020 in the mall area.
Aside from LakePoint Sports in Emerson, has any retail-anchored part of Northwest Georgia seen more development in the past decade?
The commission’s expected vote came after a series of recent presentations concerning an estimated $8.6 million that would be spent by Hull Property Group to help reshape Mount Berry Mall and surrounding acres. The kicker: The Augusta-based company that is known for buying floundering retail centers wants a “rebate (of) annual tax increments over a future period of 20 to 30 years.” Basically, any new tax revenue generated by plus development would not go into city and county funds but instead back to the developer — for two, maybe three decades?
As we stated in a previous article (and some of this may have been updated since):
- The district would cover 92.2 acres off Martha Berry Highway with borders along the Armuchee Connector and Three Mile Road.
- The overall plan calls for 130,000 square feet of the 477,000-square-foot mall — 27 percent of what’s under roof today — to come down in the first phase (known as the Sear’s wing). The project cost of demolition: $845,152.
- Improving the remaining 347,000 square feet at a cost of $379,270; that’s barely a dollar a square foot.
- Further developing out parcels at the mall and adding some new ones for a cost of $6 million. Never mind that no one has even purchased the existing Martha Berry-frontage outparcels.
- A new access road that Sear’s wing with a nearly $1 million price tag — just for site work. So far, there are no funding sources for said road and the next SPLOST doesn’t even start until April 1, 2019, so don’t look there for relief any time soon.
- Phase two would include the hotel and a 30,000-square-foot commercial center adjacent to the Rome Tennis Center. Plus there’s talk of additional retail being added even though the mall is far from full.
That’s a dandy collection of what-ifs from Hull Property Group but why should any future development be subsidized when contiguous sites are drawing private development interests at almost every turn?