Marietta betting on business in Franklin Road redevelopment

Marietta Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin easily won re-election to the city’s top spot this week, but his bigger victory was getting voters to approve a $68 million redevelopment bond.

Most of that bond — which passed by about 8 percentage points — will go toward redeveloping Franklin Road, a primarily residential corridor adjacent to both I-75 and Cobb Parkway. The city plans to purchase and tear down several existing apartment complexes, then market the land to developers in hopes of establishing another bustling commercial corridor within the city limits. It’s a plan that will have an impact on taxpayers and the area’s residents.

Marietta already has a $7.9 million contract to buy one complex — closing could come by year’s end — with sights set on purchasing at least four others, Tumlin told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We had been trying to do this for 25 years. The potential in that area is unbelievable,” Tumlin said. “This wasn’t part of my stump speech (when running for his first mayoral term) in 2009, but it soon became one of my goals.”

For taxpayers, depending on how much money is borrowed, the bond will mean higher taxes. Owners of a $200,000 home will pay an extra $160 in annual property taxes; an extra $240 on homes worth $300,000, according to the city.

For some Franklin Road residents, the bond will mean they have to move.

Franklin Road was once a prime area just off the city’s main arteries, with a mix of retail and residential offerings for city residents. Over time, the area has devolved. Many businesses have left the area, some of the decades-old apartment complexes have fallen into foreclosure and the area has developed a reputation for having high crime rates.

Marietta has tried to redevelop the area and tear down some of the complexes, but private developers haven’t been interested in taking on the project.

Currently, Franklin Road is home to about 14,000 people, according to police. Many of them are minority families.

Bond supporters cited the buildings’ advanced ages, eroding conditions and crime as reasons to advance the redevelopment projects. Opponents said the cost was too high, an unnecessary burden for taxpayers and a backdoor way to change the demographics in that part of the city.

“There were some folks on the pro side of the bond who wanted to move folks on Franklin Road out of Marietta,” said Philip Goldstein, the area’s councilman. “My view is that if the people living on Franklin Road want to stay in Marietta, they should be allowed to do so.”

Goldstein wouldn’t say whether he voted for the bond.

Abigail Ortiz has lived on Franklin Road in various complexes for two years, and in her current apartment for four months. Ortiz admits her apartment is old (tax records show the complex was built in 1970), but she’s disabled and the road’s proximity to businesses and bus stops is ideal.

“It’s fine to renovate, but I don’t think it’s OK to not let people know if they have to move,” she said. “It bothers you because it leaves you up in the air.”

There will be no housing vouchers or moving assistance offered to residents living in any of the complexes the city chooses to buy, said Ray Buday, executive director of the Marietta Housing Authority. The housing authority can’t afford it, but the agency is adding a couple of extra employees to help residents find other homes.

There are risks to these types of projects. Marietta has stalled projects around the city, with vacant lots waiting for private development. Down the road in Smyrna, struggling redevelopment projects have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. And the pattern has been repeated in many metro area cities.

Still, with the current low interest rates and a good design, the project can be successful, as long as the city gets an adequate return on its investment, said Luc Noiset, an associate economics professor at Kennesaw State University.

“(The city) needs to be sure they aren’t giving away the store,” he said.