Second Street project expansion takes a step forward

Next stage of approval to be discussed by Council Tuesday

jgaines@macon.comNovember 26, 2012 

Mayor Robert Reichert’s proposal to expand a tax-incentive district further along the Second Street redevelopment area narrowly made it through a special meeting of the City Council’s Appropriations Committee on Monday, though council members switched the funding source for the needed legal work.

The committee voted 3-2 to spend $35,000 on legal fees, with Chairman Tom Ellington and members Beverly K. Olson and Virgil Watkins in favor, and committee members Henry Ficklin and Elaine Lucas opposed. But the administration sought to take the money from special purpose local option sales tax funds, and the committee changed that. Instead, it will come from unallocated reserves in the city’s general fund. Ellington’s amendment to make that switch passed by an identical 3-2 vote.

Formally amending the redevelopment plan to expand the tax district along Little Richard Penniman Boulevard across Interstate 75 is on the agenda for a special called City Council meeting Tuesday.

A portion of the Second Street corridor is covered by a tax allocation district, or TAD, which allows future increases in tax revenue from within the area to repay the cost of infrastructure upgrades needed for development.

The current TAD extends for a block or two on either side of Second Street from Plum Street to Ash Street, with a few more parcels strung out between Ash and the beginning of Penniman. The proposed expansion is largely on the south side of Penniman, from the current district to Interstate 75, plus about a block on either side of Penniman between I-75 and Madden Avenue.

The SPLOST voters approved a year ago included $8 million for the first phase of Second Street redevelopment, notably a curving connector between the existing downtown stretch of Second Street and Little Richard Penniman Boulevard.

Consultants CHA/Huntley Partners are working on a detailed plan for street, sidewalk and landscaping improvements in the area, hoping to attract pedestrian-friendly small businesses.

In a council committee meeting last week, Laura Mathis, deputy director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, said the expansion would in part prepare the way for a new public-transit terminus in the proposed area. There has been talk of a circulating bus, streetcar line or even light rail vehicle running along Second Street when it’s redeveloped.

At Monday’s meeting, Ficklin doubted the legality of spending SPLOST funds on expanding the TAD, since the new extension of the district wasn’t spelled out in the SPLOST legislation.

“That is indeed a hard sell,” he said.

State Sen.-elect David Lucas, a member of the SPLOST oversight committee and husband of Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, said the SPLOST committee is unanimously opposed to using SPLOST money for expanding the tax district.

“The problem I see is, you’re adding it after the fact. This is what we used to call bait and switch,” David Lucas said.

Elaine Lucas weighed in to criticize Ellington and other committee chairs for calling special meetings at Reichert’s request.

“We should not operate at the whim of someone who throws a tantrum when they do not get their way,” she said.

Ficklin asked why amending the redevelopment plan is deemed urgent. Attorney Kevin Brown said the amended plan has to pass the council twice, so if it’s to be approved by the end of the year those votes need to come at the Dec. 4 and Dec. 18 regular meetings. And if it doesn’t pass by the end of the year, the state Department of Revenue won’t ratify the change until the end of 2013, Brown said.

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