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Marietta to spend millions more redeveloping area around soccer fields

The city of Marietta is preparing to spend another $5.8 million on the redevelopment of Franklin Gateway, a transitional neighborhood where Atlanta United opened a state-of-the-art training facility in April.

City Council approved the purchase of a seven-acre shopping center at the corner of Franklin Gateway and South Marietta Parkway and expects to finalize the sale in June, said city spokesperson Lindsey Wiles.

In 2014, the Atlanta United became Major League Soccer's 22nd franchise, beginning play in 2017.

The city and property owners came to an agreement on the price tag without commissioning an appraisal. In 2017, the property was assessed at $4.4 million by the Cobb Board of Tax Assessors.

Tax assessments do not necessarily correspond with market value, said Mayor Steve Tumlin, adding that he’s had his eye on the property for at least three years.

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“We went with the recommendation of the real estate people,” Tumlin said. “You got to hit a price that the seller will let it go.”

Rusi Patel, senior associate counsel at the Georgia Municipal Association, said state law does not require the city to seek an appraisal before purchase. 

Even so, William Perry, founder of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, said he couldn’t understand why the city wouldn’t want to do it anyway.

“They agreed to the deal for the soccer facility without any sort of economic impact study or anything other than the assumption it would spur development and bring economic opportunities to the area,” he added.

The shopping center would be the sixth property bought and razed by the city since 2010 using funds from a $68 million redevelopment bond issuance approved by voters. Critics of the Franklin Gateway project have accused the city of pushing out lower-income residents and minorities, while supporters point to falling crime and increasing property values as evidence of its success.

Despite the area’s warming real estate market, Tumlin said, the city needed to step in to purchase the shopping center, so it can improve the property and attract a hotel, large office building or similar investment.

“They can be enticed quicker when its clean,” he said of the land.

Earlier this year, the $60 million training complex openedbuilt on land owned by the city and leased to Atlanta United for $1 a year for the first ten years and $320,000 per year for years 21-30. The city also agreed to give a 10-year property tax abatement.

Marietta is planning to open three public fields across the street from the team’s facility in June.

Tumlin scoffed at concerns over the fiscal wisdom of the soccer deal.

“If they ride down there and say that’s not working, then they’re laughable,” he said.

The shopping center that the city is purchasing is anchored by a shuttered flea market. About half of the businesses were closed during a recent weekday visit.

Carlos Vazquez has been running his family’s supermarket, Mercado Real De La Villa, located in the shopping center for more than 10 years.

He said he has mixed feelings about the redevelopment. He’s pleased that crime is down and the new and renovated apartments are nicer, but the Hispanic population on which the supermarket depends is shrinking as the neighborhood gentrifies.

“I’m always welcoming change — it’s inevitable,” he said. “It feels like it’s going to hurt us, but it might just be for the better.”

Recently, he rented an apartment down the street, something he said he would not have felt safe doing just three years ago.

At Peachview Drugs, another one of the businesses in the shopping center, proprietor and pharmacist Yeti Ezeanii acknowledged the improvements but said finding a new location willbe a huge financial burden.

“When we first started here, Franklin Road was kind of a seedy part of town, a somewhat rundown place that had a lot of crime. But, over the past three years or so we’ve seen an immense change,” she said. “Our customers are displaced; we ourselves are being displaced.”

Ezeanii expressed hope the city would be willing to compensate business owners who have invested in the community.

“We want to stay in the city of Marietta,” she said. “We understand what’s going on here, and while we’re sad we have to move we understand it’s best for the citizenry, if you will.”

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