Centerville officials focus on economic development

Telegraph correspondentApril 2, 2014 

CENTERVILLE -- City officials are concentrating on economic development during a three-day planning retreat that began Monday and ends Wednesday.

During one session Tuesday, Mayor John Harley, City Council members and city department heads heard from representatives of the investment group that’s owned and operated Houston County Galleria mall since 2007.

Christopher La Mack, of Gemini Real Estate Advisors LLC told them he and Gemini are “bullish” on the mall and are working to redevelop and renovate it with new business in the mall itself and on an anchor parcel it hopes to open in the mall perimeter’s northeast corner.

Much talk at the retreat has related to economic development in what’s being called a downtown area north of the mall that runs along Houston Lake Boulevard and includes Gunn Road and Margie Drive, including the new Margie Drive extension that connects back to Houston Lake Boulevard.

Officials are trying to change the perception of the area from being “the back of the mall” to being a thriving commercial area “north of the mall.”

La Mack told officials that sales are up at Houston County Galleria after they “bottomed out” three years ago. He said malls of similar size have struggled and closed but that the Galleria is recovering. He said adding a couple of national chains likely would spur growth at the mall and the surrounding area.

Councilman Ed Tucker, who works closely with Gemini as a liaison between it and the city, said the mall was the initial hub that sparked commercial growth in the area south of Watson Boulevard and could do the same to the north if handled properly.

La Mack told the retreat group that creating a new northeast access road into the mall off Houston Lake Boulevard is crucial to further development and key in discussions he is having with at least three firms interested in locating there.

Councilman Cameron Andrews said engineering for such an access road was already done and that the project only needed funding and the right timing to get underway. He said he and the council were 100 percent with Gemini concerning development and growth.

La Mack said the 20-year-old mall is due for upgrades. He said Gemini is planning renovations over the next several years to update its “look and feel.” Renovations will include modernizing, a color-scheme change and “doing something with the pond -- the fountain area” at the mall’s center.

He said new signs along Houston Lake Boulevard and Watson Boulevard also are important to opening up Houston County Galleria’s north side.

Other talks Tuesday featured officials from Suwanee, where, according to Tucker, officials did something Centerville is wanting to do: create a downtown setting “from scratch.”

Monday, officials began the retreat by hearing from Georgia Municipal Association planners and from Centerville’s city accountant, Carol Harrison.

Wednesday, Harley said plans are to have department heads, including police and fire, give two-year, five-year and 10-year plans and action items. He said his goal for the retreat is that officials not only gain and incorporate new ideas but practically put into place written plans and policies that can guide the city for years to come.

Though officials are calling the meeting a retreat, in order to save funds the meetings are being held in Centerville’s new law enforcement center training room with meals served next door in the City Hall community room.

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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