Frugal F’ville sees better year ahead

With property values and tax revenues continuing to fall, 2012 was not an easy year for Fayetteville. But what looks to be the beginning of an economic recovery paired with an ever-frugal city government might just signal better things to come in 2013.

The year saw what might be the beginnings of a reversal from the city’s years-long state of lackluster economic growth and development.

Ground was broken in the fall on Brandywine Boulevard for the city’s largest project in the past three years. The 4.33-acre site will be the location of the Hope Assisted Living and Memory Care Center.

The 49,309 square-foot center will have four separate wings, or sections, designed to permit residents with similar levels of memory loss and loss of cognitive abilities to be grouped together in the same wing, owner Earl Schoepf said. The wings will be referenced as villages, he added.

The center will provide living arrangements for 64 residents and create 52 jobs. It is expected to open in the spring, Schoepf said.

As for locating the assisted living center in Fayetteville, Schoepf said the selection was based on demographics. The company already has a facility on the east side of metro Atlanta. So when looking to establish on the south side, the Fayetteville/Peachtree City area was in the heart of a 10-mile radius that has a large retirement population, Schoepf said.

And there was some movement in the business sector in 2012 that will come to fruition in 2013. The search for a quality restaurant to locate in downtown area ended when Atlanta-based “Twisted Taco” signed on to open its first southside restaurant in the old Travis Hardware building. Expected to open in early 2013, Twisted Taco will feature Fayette County’s only rooftop dining.

Twisted Taco President Paul Gibbs said it was Fayetteville Community Development Director Brian Wismer who knew of Twisted Taco and contacted them about the idea of coming to the city.

City Manager Joe Morton in commenting on Wismer’s new combined role in areas such as Fayetteville Main Street, planning and zoning and the Fayetteville Downtown Development Authority said, “Brian’s got a good attitude and good business sense.”

The year also saw the Villages Amphitheater renamed the Southern Ground Amphitheater as a result of the strong relationship with country music artist Zac Brown, Morton said.

Morton said 2012 saw the ownership of most of the city’s commercial shopping centers changing hands. And it was the city’s older commercial centers that were the subject of a voter-approved initiative designed to promote redevelopment.

The Redevelopment Authority Powers referendum on the November ballot passed with nearly 70 percent of the vote. It provides the city a tool Georgia calls a TAD (tax allocation district) to have the property taxes on specific pieces of property frozen until the redevelopment is complete. Under the plan, the property taxes continue to be collected at the frozen rate.

An example of one of the parcels identified for redevelopment is the 692 Shopping Center on North Glynn Street, former home of the Longbranch Restaurant and other businesses. Situated on 3.9 acres with a building totaling 41,975 square feet, the parcel sold in 2001 for $1.8 million. In 2006 the fair market value had dropped to $1.747 million. In 2007 and continuing through 2011 the fair market value was $1.308 million. Now largely unoccupied, current fair market today has decreased to $1.166 million.

Other older and significantly vacant commercial areas slated for potential redevelopment include the old Walmart and Banks Station shopping centers on Ga. Highway 85 and the undeveloped commercial property at The Villages on Ga. Highway 54 West.

The City Council in an effort to spur business development acted on items from the March retreat and implemented adjustments to the sign and alcohol ordinances and streamlined and reduced both impact and sewer fees, Morton said.

Morton said 2012 saw 38 residential building permits issued. That may be a far cry from the numbers issued before the recession, but it is nine times better than the 4 permits issued in 2011, Morton said.

Transportation was an area that saw movement in 2012. But 2013 will prove to be a landmark year for the beginning of a very large project designed to help alleviate the gridlock often seen by motorists negotiating the downtown area.

The $9 million Hood Avenue/Ga. Highway 92/North Jeff Davis Drive realignment project will see the initial phases begin in earnest in early 2013.

The project will relocate the traffic signal at Hwy. 92 and North Glynn Street a short distance to the south at Hood Avenue. A large roundabout will connect Hood Avenue to Hwy. 92 on the west side of North Glynn Street.

The project also includes extending Hood Avenue east across Glynn Street, along the south side of Hudson Plaza where it will link with Kathi Avenue via another roundabout to Jeff Davis Drive to the east.

A part of the project includes the removal of the the smaller, southernmost Hudson Plaza building positioned perpendicular to North Glynn Street and situated across from Hood Avenue.

Yet another portion of the project will extend Church Street northward from where it currently ends at Georgia Avenue. The Church Street extension will link the roadway to the Kathi Avenue roundabout.

Overall, the project is meant to diminish traffic accidents at Hood Avenue and Hwy. 92, relieve traffic congestion in the Glynn Street/Ga. Highway 54 area, relieve traffic congestion on Georgia Avenue near the post office and improve traffic safety for schools located in the area.

The project carries an estimated price tag of $9.1 million, with $7.8 million coming from previously collected local 1-cent sales tax revenues.

Fayetteville in 2012 continued to take action to react to the specter of diminishing property tax revenues. In 2012 alone, Fayetteville’s tax digest plummeted 11.36 percent.

The effects of the recession over the past few years is most notable in the declining value of real and personal property, a changing reality that city finance staff several years ago began to call “the new norm.”

It was back in 2007 that city staff essentially predicted the recession, advising the council that measures should be taken to offset what they saw coming. The council responded, enacting a variety of cost-saving measures that helped cushion the blow of decreasing revenues.

Those efforts continued in 2012, Morton said, by continuing to “get our financial house in order” by reorganizing city government and implementing the retirement plan that saw 18 eligible employees retire, though 11 returned to part-time status. The savings to the city totals approximately $250,000 during the 2012-2013 fiscal year and will total $400,000 in 2013-2014.

Morton in noting the transition in January of the new mayor and members of the Fayetteville City Council said, “I think it’s gone pretty well. There’s always a learning curve and staff has worked with them.”

January saw Greg Clifton take the helm as mayor, having defeated longtime Mayor Ken Steele, and with council members Ed Johnson and Mickey Edwards taking their seats after defeating incumbent Councilman Wilson Price and newcomer Cathy Cochran, respectively.

Staffing allocations in the city fire department were also adjusted in 2012, resulting in a reduction of 6 firefighters that brought substantial savings, Morton said. The City Council mid-year voted to go that route rather than consolidating with the county fire department. Firefighters at the council meeting were insistent that the city maintain its own department.

The city in 2012 also developed a dual certification for firefighters and police officers. Morton said 10 police officers have expressed interest in the dual certification.

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