Politics & Government

Eisenhower tax district plans short of target

The deadline is nearing for establishing a business improvement district this year along Eisenhower Parkway, and owners of the Macon Mall who are pushing the effort aren’t very close to their goal.

“We’re running out of time,” said Mark Stevens, regional development officer for mall owner Hull Storey Gibson.

Approval for creating the special tax district must come from 51 percent of the designated area’s commercial property owners -- either 51 percent of the tracts of land, or 51 percent of the assessed property value.

Measured by tracts, organizers are “almost halfway” to the needed approval, but only about one-third of the way there by property value, Stevens said.

Consent forms are still trickling in, he said -- Havertys Furniture and Applebee’s recently sent theirs. Stevens sent another letter and consent form April 2 to property owners he hadn’t heard from, urging them to give their approval by April 30. Hull Storey Gibson needs to send the collected approval forms to Bibb County Tax Commissioner Tommy Tedders by May 31 in order to get the district assessment on the coming year’s tax bills, Stevens wrote.

Mall owners sought last year to create a “community improvement district,” levying a 5-mill additional tax on commercial property owners within a 47-block area along Eisenhower. But that required approval from 75 percent of affected property owners -- residential properties wouldn’t pay the tax -- so the plan changed to creating a “business improvement district.” That only needs consent from 51 percent of commercial property owners, but also the approval of Macon-Bibb County government. Commissioners have indicated they would approve it.

A management plan prepared by Hull Storey Gibson says the district would exist for six years before having to be renewed. It estimates raising at least $400,000 a year from the added tax, which would be spent by a seven-member board of property owners on landscaping, signs and other aesthetic upgrades within the corridor.

The management plan, covering July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2021, anticipates spending $100,000 a year on road maintenance and landscaping; $85,000 on safety patrols; $75,000 staff salary; a one-time $50,000 reimbursement for Hull Storey Gibson’s start-up costs; and various smaller expenses, for a grand total of $410,000 the first year.

The top priority is assuring visitors that the area is safe, Stevens said. The district could pay for nightly safety patrols, which would report any suspicious activity to the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, he said.

“We’re working closely with (Sheriff) David Davis,” Stevens said. “He’s very aware of what we’re doing.”

Most of the proposed district lies within the territory of Al Tillman’s Macon-Bibb County commission district.

“My whole thing is that I support the Macon Mall and, in turn, the district’s efforts,” Tillman said. But he said he’s not sure the mall is making full use of the government’s influence in reassuring and convincing property owners. Tillman suggests asking Macon-Bibb to send letters endorsing the idea to the holdouts.

Everyone involved wants to see Eisenhower revitalized and beautified, he said. Tillman said he’s only heard from Hull Storey Gibson officials and doesn’t know individuals’ reasons for hesitancy.

“If there are any concerns, I would wish that people would reach out to myself as a commissioner and let me know,” he said. Commissioners can be reached at 803-0365.

While the Eisenhower corridor sees $450 million per year in retail activity, Stevens has talked about “branding” the district as an education-related corridor, citing the presence of Middle Georgia State University, Central Georgia Tech and others. Those schools support the effort, he said.

Stevens maintains that the slow response is largely due to distant corporate ownership of many Eisenhower properties. The mall will survive whether the district is approved or not, but improving the surrounding area will increase property values and attract more customers for everyone, he said.

Mall owners acknowledge that state and local governments, despite good intentions, can’t afford to provide the manicured and consistent look that a unified business district needs, Stevens said.

Business and property owners themselves can pay to clear run-down properties and turn the Interstate 475 interchange into an attractive gateway, he said.

“This ties right in with the mayor’s fight on blight,” Stevens said.