Warner Robins RDA approves redevelopment plan draft

chwright@macon.comNovember 13, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- The Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency board unanimously approved Tuesday the draft of an updated redevelopment plan, which will be used to set up special tax districts meant to spur development throughout the north end of the city.

City Council must now accept the drafted redevelopment plan, created by the Middle Georgia Regional Commission. It proposes five main initiatives to be developed over the next two to three decades, including a hotel and conference center and an established downtown area.

“If we’re going to get this city going to where young people want to come, we’re going to have to do something,” said board member Warren Faircloth, adding his daughter refuses to move to Warner Robins because it lacks a downtown.

The plan proposes just one tax allocation district, or TAD, to be established by Dec. 31. It would run along Watson Boulevard, between North Davis Drive and Ga. 247. Others are expected to follow. Tax allocation districts would allow the city to reap the increased tax value of redeveloped blighted property and reinvest it in the area. A current redevelopment plan is required to set up the districts.

“This is the way development is moving,” said Gary Lee, Redevelopment Agency executive director. “We’re not re-creating the wheel.”

To meet the deadline, the board and City Council must approve a final draft of the plan, the school board and county need to be consulted, and the documents must be sent to the state Department of Community Affairs.

Board member Jim Balleto expressed concern about having enough time to study the proposed plan. But chairman Randy Meade and Lee told Balleto it’s really just an update to a 2007 plan that incorporates others from the past 10 years.

The plan

The drafted plan the RDA approved lists five primary initiatives for the area: revamping Commercial Circle, beautifying the east end of Watson Boulevard as a gateway to the city, building a hotel and conference center, establishing a technology and industry corridor along Ga. 247 and developing new neighborhoods.

It aims to revitalize the area of Warner Robins where the city was founded but has declined through the city’s population and boundary growth of the last 20 years, the plan states.

“By its creation and implementation, the Redevelopment Area will generate significant direct economic impacts in terms of new development, increased retail spending and resulting taxes, and will retain jobs that could be lost to other areas of the region,” the plan states.

The established redevelopment area is 5.66 square miles of land across from Robins Air Force Base, the largest economic engine in Middle Georgia.

“Stagnant growth, high vacancy rates, high crime rates and low income precipitate the need to redevelop this area,” the plan states.

According to the plan, a revamp of Commercial Circle would establish a downtown area the young city has lacked since its 1941 inception.

“The city took on a different pattern of development and has no central business district, which is a cornerstone in older communities around the state,” the plan states.

A downtown centered around Commercial Circle isn’t a new idea. Neither is the hotel and conference center mentioned.

The latter is proposed to be built where the current Recreation Department stands. The city earmarked $5 million to build a recreation complex elsewhere in the city. A location has not been disclosed.

To encourage the vibrancy of the area, the plan proposes turning Watson Boulevard, which runs from Ga. 247 to the opposite side of stown, into a gateway on its east end.

“For most guests and ‘newcomers’ to the Base, the ride along Watson is their first visual experience of the City,” the plan states.

The plan further suggests all new government offices -- whether county, state or federal -- and cultural activities be encouraged to locate in the area.

The city’s new law enforcement center will be the first. It’s under construction just across from Robins Air Force Base at Watson Boulevard and Armed Forces Boulevard, renamed from North First Street.

The first TAD also includes one of three locations identified for technology and industry on Ga. 247. The other two are north of Green Street and at Russell Parkway.

Lee has lobbied the RDA board and City Council for TADs as an avenue to promote redevelopment. The special tax districts have been used in Atlanta and Macon for redevelopment.

LEC cost adjustment

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the board approved a $16,190 change order for the law enforcement center. The cost adjustment is for required inspection of duct work in the building.

Lee said the project has had relatively few change orders for a project of its size, and this is hopefully the last.

According an update from the builders, the project is on track to be complete by Jan. 31. The board also discussed furniture for the building, which Finance Director Bill Harte said can be funded with the project budget if no more unforeseen construction costs arise.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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