WARNER ROBINS — The Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency is laying down the financial groundwork to redevelop the city’s gateway and create a “downtown feel” that’s expected to increase property values and draw more people to the area in coming years.
With dozens of blighted businesses and empty or overgrown lots, the current gateway to Warner Robins is “not as pleasing to the eye,” said Gary Lee, executive director of the agency. “What we’re trying to do is correct that. ... It’s not for us. It’s for the next generation that’s coming up behind us. We want to make it amenable and pleasing to the eye and be able to be an area that is going to be welcoming to outsiders.”
A tax allocation district was first attempted in 2012 as a means to attract a developer to build a hotel and conference center downtown. Those plans never came to fruition, but talks of moving forward with establishing the district re-emerged in the agency’s meeting earlier this week.
“The TAD is not to raise anyone’s taxes. It’s not that,” Lee said. “It’s used to help stimulate the development area so that we can bring in private investors to invest in our area.”
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With the year the TAD is established set as the base year, the district allows for any future growth in property tax revenue to be collected into a special fund to be used for redevelopment infrastructure within the district. Typically, TADs can last from 15 to 25 years, but the agency has not yet defined a timeframe.
The proposed 355-parcel area includes a portion of land beside Ga. 247 spanning from Duke Avenue to Martin Luther King Boulevard, stretching east between Young Avenue and Robins Drive before ending near Davis Drive and Commercial Circle. The total taxable value of the 170-acre district is $55.5 million, according to a draft report.
Included in the proposed district is Chuck’s Bait, Tackle, Gun and Pawn at 603 Watson Blvd.
“It’d be nice if they’d bring something down here to get something stirred up because this end of town is dead,” said Chip Williams, co-owner of Chuck’s. “That conference center would be good. That would bring out-of-towners in and restaurants and, you know, anything for that matter. Any retail business that would lure people down to this side of town would be great. ... I’d love the property value to increase.”
Williams said Saturdays are his busiest days, but “it could be a lot better if there was more going on on this end of town, you know? We’re so far off the interstate, it’s hard for us to lure them off the interstate.”
Martin’s BBQ at 102 South Armed Forces Blvd. also is included in the district.
“He closes at three o’clock because people have gone home from work and they’re just not on this end of town,” Williams said of Richard Martin, who owns the restaurant.
The TAD, in addition to the developer-owned hotel and conference center that’s expected to be build beside City Hall in the future, is part of a larger plan to attract residents and visitors to the area, Mayor Randy Toms said recently.
“A strong priority of mine is to eliminate the phrase ‘There’s nothing to do in Warner Robins,’” Toms said. “We could have ... some shops and some ways to highlight that local talent in Our Commercial Circle area, or what should be our downtown area if we had one. We’re so sprawled. It’s hard to say downtown in Warner Robins, (and) we know that.”
Attorney Blake Sharpton, of Macon-based Butler Snow LLP, presented some options Monday for how the agency can proceed with creating the district. He said the NYSA Capital firm has proposed an engagement agreement to help find developers to build and operate the hotel and conference center.
“One of the key questions that any developer will have will be ‘What are the local financial metrics that are a part of the deal?’ One component of many will be ... a tax allocation district,” Sharpton said. “A developer is interested in a TAD because is suggests the community is serious about the project.”
The next step will be for the City Council, redevelopment agency, commissioners and school board members to pass individual resolutions agreeing to creation of the district. Sharpton said he expects all entities will have passed resolutions by Thanksgiving.
To contact writer Laura Corley, call 744-4334 or follow her on Twitter @Lauraecor.