WARNER ROBINS -- City leaders officially have revealed the building the Redevelopment Agency board has said will become the example for the east entrance to the city.
“We’re hoping this will be the first building of many to come to make downtown what it can be,” said Warren Faircloth, an RDA board member.
Officials cut a ribbon Wednesday morning at the new Thrifty Car Rental location on Armed Forces Boulevard, a city rental property the Redevelopment Agency built this year after bulldozing the former location for the new police headquarters.
“I’m very happy to be the first down here,” said Regina Palladeno, Thrifty Car Rental manager.
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The building is the first completed project for the present Redevelopment Agency board members, who were appointed to the board last year after City Council removed itself.
“We’re very happy with it,” Faircloth said. “We will soon have another one down the street.”
The law enforcement center, under construction at Watson Boulevard and Armed Forces Boulevard, is expected to be completed in January. The RDA board inherited Thrifty’s lease agreement when the land was purchased for the police headquarters, before the board change. The new board had to design a building elsewhere, renegotiate the lease and find funds.
They borrowed money from City Council for the building. Thrifty will pay $2,500 per month in rent, which the board will use to pay the city back $144,726.
The new board members at first balked at the logistics to relocate the company but decided to turn the snag into a stepping stone in city officials’ vision for the area close to Robins Air Force Base.
“What we want to do as a mayor and council is to leave something for our successors to build on,” Mayor Chuck Shaheen said, adding it was their predecessors’ original idea to demolish eyesores in the area.
Shaheen and Gary Lee, Redevelopment Agency executive director, have taken to calling the strip along the east part of Watson Boulevard, which includes the new police headquarters and city hall, the “Government Corridor.”
The RDA board agreed to design the rental building with the same materials as the law enforcement center and in the same style.
City officials now want the aesthetic of the one-story dark red brick building with faux gray stone lining the roof replicated to bring a new life to a main city entrance.
Lee said the area has a bad reputation from the mid-20th century, when it was known as Old Jody Town. City Council renamed North First Street to Armed Forces Boulevard this year, council members said, to help reinvent the area’s image.
“Back in the day, bars and drinking was part of that old atmosphere,” Lee said.
Lee said the board and City Council aren’t imposing any strict facade regulations in the area.
“We’re creating a standard,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be exactly the same.”
He said two main staples will be curbside monument signs and underground utilities.
Lee said the area will be placed in a tax allocation district. City Council and the Redevelopment Agency board agreed to put in place by the end of the year. The districts, a tool used to spur development, would allow developers to pay taxes on the current property value even after it increases.
Lee said the city needed to take the first step changing the area. He and his board are confident the Government Corridor will evolve into a sea of “21st Century buildings,” which he hopes will include a new facade for City Hall, a hotel and convention center and a flourishing Commercial Circle.
“This can take years, but you’ve got to get started,” Faircloth said. “And we started here.”