Politics & Government

Cleanup may come to former Renaissance site on Riverside

Macon-Bibb County is taking some steps toward making a 10-acre site on Riverside Drive eligible for residential use, in hope of reviving developers’ interest.

The wedge-shaped site bordered by Spring Street, Second Street, Riverside Drive and the Ocmulgee River was bought and cleared by public agencies, and a development group headed by former Mercer University President Kirby Godsey planned a huge, upscale mixed-use project there. But the deal collapsed in December 2013 when Godsey discovered state environmental restrictions, which barred some of the site from residential use.

Now attorney Andy Welch is working for the Macon-Bibb County government on an application for a site cleanup plan.

The Riverside Drive redevelopment team, made up of city officials and Welch, met with state Environmental Protection Division last week to discuss Macon-Bibb County’s intentions and scope of the investigation plan and application under the state’s voluntary remediation program, Welch said via email.

“Our team is working to finalize the (state remediation) investigation plan and application, and we intend to have it filed with EPD next month,” he said.

So far, however, there hasn’t been any renewed interest in the prominent site from developers, said Alex Morrison, executive director of the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority. But that may be in part because it hasn’t been actively promoted.

Last December, a month before city-county consolidation, the city government agreed to take back parcels at 801 and 815 Riverside Drive from the Urban Development Authority, following the expiration of a year-old contract and the collapse of the project agreement with Godsey.

“Since the last deal went off the table with the property transfer ... we’ve not continued to market it for sale,” Morrison said. The development authority agreed with Macon-Bibb to not try selling any of the parcels until the entire property can be “repackaged” in some form, he said.

PROBLEMS AND PRIORITIES

A report that County Manager Dale Walker gave Macon-Bibb commissioners Nov. 18 says that mitigation efforts on the site are a high priority for the rest of this year.

The actual work eventually would include “clean(ing) up (the) site by removing soil and replacing it with clean dirt,” Walker’s report said.

Commissioners would need to approve a plan, and Macon-Bibb would then work with Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light Co. on it, he said.

An EPD spokesman said last year that the site might qualify for a remediation program, which could change restrictions on at least part of the land.

After remediation work is done -- and any change in the land’s status is approved by EPD -- the UDA would again market the site to developers.

According to legal documents, the city knew years ago of state restrictions that barred residential use on part of the 10-acre site and was obligated to inform any potential developers. The 2005 agreement involved the city, Atlanta Gas Light and Georgia Power. Part of the land was once the location of an Atlanta Gas Light/Georgia Power plant that turned coal into gas for heat and light. That left the ground contaminated with lead and coal or oil residue. It was taken off the state’s hazardous site inventory around 2011, but it remained limited to nonresidential use without further cleanup.

A map prepared by Godsey’s group shows contamination on about 60 percent of the site, but it’s under nearly 40 feet of fill dirt and would be both difficult and expensive to dig out.

In late 2013 Godsey said, and Mayor Robert Reichert confirmed, that a rough estimate to fully clean the site was $26 million.

Godsey said then that he knew of a small amount of oil contamination, which he planned to cover with a parking deck. But the wider scope of contamination and its cost to clean up made his plan untenable.

Reichert, however, has maintained that the site is still usable with “minor remediation” on some parts and rearranging residential buildings on the rest.

The 2005 agreement with Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light says that if any part of the land is approved for residential use, Macon-Bibb would have to pay $500,000, with half each going to Georgia Power and half to Atlanta Gas Light; and the city would then be responsible for 30 percent of any remediation cost on the plot at 801 Riverside Drive, which was then the city’s Central Services headquarters. The two utilities would split the rest of the cost but wouldn’t be responsible for any cleanup at the former Macon Transit Authority site at 815 Riverside Drive. Reichert was the city’s attorney for that agreement, three years before he became mayor.

“Throughout this process we have and will continue to keep Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light apprised of our actions,” Welch said.

Georgia Power spokesman Brian Green said Friday that the utility is willing to work with Macon-Bibb officials, but there has been no movement so far.

Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said the extent of needed cleanup should be known in January.

“We’ll be able to determine the scope of work and cost once we hear back from EPD,” he said via email.

Godsey planned to build more than 200 condominiums or apartments on the site, along with a small hotel, office and retail space. It was described as having “a potential fair market value in excess of $90 million.” The phased project would have broken ground in 2014 and been finished by the end of 2016.

Estimated development costs ran about $49 million, with $8.3 million more in infrastructure. In December 2010 the city approved a tax allocation district, or TAD, for the site, with revenue from it backing development bonds. In addition to clearing the site, the city bought and renovated the warehouse at 1000 Seventh St. as a new home for Central Services at a cost of about $1 million.

In 2013 Godsey said he and a few partners had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on planning and promoting the development.

“If the property ever becomes developable, we’ll be happy to talk with the Urban Development Authority about an option,” he said then. Godsey didn’t respond to requests for comment for this report.

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