Atlanta's love affair with tax allocation districts continues this month with a push for four new TADs predicted to attract hundreds of millions of investor dollars in new shopping centers, office buildings and condominiums to some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
Coming on the heels of the Beltline TAD -- a project of almost impossibly high expectations -- and the runaway success of Atlantic Station, the four TADs proposed for Atlanta's southside may seem lackluster by comparison. The areas they encompass are a short list of some of the most downtrodden parts of the city: southwest Atlanta's Campbellton Road, the Bankhead Highway/MLK Drive corridor, several blocks surrounding Turner Field and the notorious Metropolitan Parkway.
But Councilman Caesar Mitchell, who introduced the proposals, points out that the more than 3,500 acres contained in the TADs are home to some of the city's more enticing tracts of land, including the 485-acre Fort McPherson and the 138-acre Lakewood Fairgrounds. Also ripe for redevelopment are two former public housing projects, several large shopping centers and a 150-acre quarry.
"When you look at these proposed TADs, you see opportunities for a wide variety of development projects," Mitchell says.
Introduced to Georgia around 20 years ago, but first embraced by the city of Atlanta about five years back, tax allocation districts are complex public financing tools that allow a municipality to pledge future tax receipts to pay off redevelopment costs. They are used to spur private investment in blighted areas that would otherwise sit idle.
In the case of Atlantic Station, TAD funds went to clean up the contaminated brownfield site left behind by an old steel plant, and to build a network of parking decks. The resulting project will eventually include more than 1.6 million square feet of retail space and 4,000 housing units, all built with private money.
In other instances, TAD funds have been used to partially underwrite private developments, such as the $150 million, mixed-income Capitol Gateway townhouse community now being built on the site of the old Capitol Homes housing project.
Mitchell says it's too early in the process to predict how TAD funding will be put to use in most of the areas he's eyeing or how much would be spent -- that will depend on the type of projects pitched by developers.
Near Turner Field, however, he wants the city to use TAD financing to build a large parking deck. That, in turn, could free up about 30 acres of nearby surface parking lots owned by the Atlanta/Fulton County Recreation Authority for redevelopment as restaurants, shopping and apartment complexes -- a move that could also put millions of dollars of public land back on the tax rolls. The result, Mitchell hopes, would be a full-scale revival of the beleaguered Summerhill neighborhood.
Although Metropolitan Parkway, a strip best known as the center of the city's prostitution trade, may not now seem tempting to investors, it contains the run-down, '50s-era Crossroads shopping center. Comprising 26 acres of mostly barren asphalt, it's enormous enough to serve as a blank canvas for a self-contained mixed-use complex that would be only a stone's throw from another huge tract at the former Lakewood Fairgrounds.
Mitchell says the city will soon solicit proposals for a master development plan for Lakewood, similar to the process undertaken at Atlantic Station.
Another plum property -- this one at the western end of the Campbellton Road TAD -- is the long-ailing Greenbriar Mall, which occupies an enviable site at the intersection of I-285 and Langford Parkway. In 2002, the city's Princeton Lakes TAD launched Camp Creek Marketplace, a retail district along I-285 that's been so successful it's sent developers scrambling for land in southwestern Atlanta.
Even a pair of MARTA stations along outer MLK Drive offer the chance for high-density, transit-oriented housing and office space, Mitchell explains.
The main rule of thumb for TADs is to create them where they are critically needed to stimulate development, explains Charles Whatley, manager of business development with the Atlanta Development Authority, who has worked closely with Mitchell on his proposals. Although it may seem that Fort Mac, the soon-to-be former Army base at the eastern end of Campbellton Road, doesn't need public incentives to make it more attractive to developers, Whatley says the funding could be used to enhance infrastructure. The base, for instance, is not hooked into the city sewer system, he says.
Unless his proposals are approved by the end of the year, Mitchell is worried that the city's TAD program could be a victim of its own success. Under state law, the value of all property included in TADs can only be 10 percent of the city's total tax digest; the rapidly increasing value of Atlantic Station and other TAD projects is already pushing that ceiling.
"From a policy standpoint, it's important to get these TADs authorized before we lose the opportunity," Mitchell says. "This won't be possible if we wait until next year."
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