Morrow is trying one last time to sell a mixed-use development that officials just 10 years ago had hoped would be a major south metro destination but now say may be headed for the wrecking ball.
The Clayton County city has commissioned Ackerman and Company to sell Olde Towne Morrow for a list price of $1.6 million, far below the $10 million to $13 million the mixture of shops, offices and restaurants reportedly cost when it opened back in November 2009.
Since its closing around Christmas 2010, the 16-acre development has sat abandoned, with the handful of buildings boarded up after vandals broke windows and scrawled graffiti on walls.
If Ackerman can’t find a buyer, the development — which sits across the street from Southlake Mall — will be demolished, Morrow Mayor Jeff DeTar said earlier this week.
“If we get some interest through the broker, we’ll pursue that,” he said of Ackerman. “If that doesn’t work out, we’re probably going to start bulldozing.”
Olde Towne was designed to attract visitors seeking an “old-fashioned” town center with music, food and the feel of a walkable community. Old homes were moved to the site and a wooden bridge was constructed over a small lake to bring charm to the development.
But it never lured the businesses, shoppers or tourists it needed to make it viable and was costing the city of roughly 7,500 thousands of dollars to operate. In addition, there were accusations that the quaint stores and restaurants were not up to code and that the sprinkler systems installed in them were inadequate. A former Morrow city official who spearheaded the project was charged with circumventing state building laws in the development.
Kennesaw State University economist Roger Tutterow said it didn’t help that the project began in the middle of the Great Recession.
“Timing is everything,” he said. “It’s a pretty tough battle to start when they did.”
With the nation in a stronger economic position today, Tutterow said the results may be different. Several areas around metro Atlanta have revived their downtowns, including Smyrna, Alpharetta and Duluth, and with the right partner Olde Towne could serve that purpose for Morrow.
“I think it’s certainly worth another try to see if they can find a buyer, particularly if it’s one who will come in and put cash in the project and try to give it life one more time,” he said.
Since its closure, a number of redevelopment proposals have been pitched, but none of them have gelled or had financial backing, DeTar said. They’ve included building a sports stadium on the site, turning it into an artist colony and using it as a ziplining and eco tourism destination.
“The latest one was a suggestion by Sheriff Victor Hill to use it as a training site for SWAT training,” DeTar said. “But that was as a one-time thing, not long term.”
Whatever the outcome, DeTar said it’s time for the development to be out of city hands. It would be a liability for Morrow if vandals and others who trespass on the site get hurt and sue the city.
“All of these are issues that we’re worried about,” he said.
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