Commission eyes areas of city in need of development

An appointed city commission of local real estate and investment experts has identified areas of Columbus that are in dire need of creative ways to attract development, and has developed a series of strategies to do just that, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said Monday.

The Real Estate Investment Initiative Commission's final report will be presented to Columbus Council this evening at the council's regular business meeting.

Tomlinson said the commission's report is a first step toward doing something besides talking about improving conditions in areas that need it most.

"The first step toward resolution is admitting you have a problem, or a challenge," Tomlinson said. "I think it's time we admit and identify where our challenges are, and not be afraid of it."

The primary criteria the commission used to qualify a target area were high rates of crime, unemployment, poverty and general blight and a very low number of building permits.

To attract developers and the investors that makes development possible, the commission recommends several enticements:

Creating urban service districts in which council could lower millage rates for a blighted area, lessening the property tax impact.

Business Improvement Districts, such as Uptown Columbus, which has been very successful, according to the commission's report.

Enterprise zones, which also allow businesses locating there to apply for tax abatements for 10 years.

Pursue a Tax Allocation District referendum, as was done in 2007, when the proposal failed at the polls by just 260 votes, or 51-49 percent. A TAD would allow the city to issue bonds in the name of a developer who wants to go into a blighted area, but the city would be under no legal obligation to repay the bonds should the developer fail, nor would the debt be counted as city debt. Tomlinson said TADS have been used in Georgia for 30 years and never has a TAD bond issue gone unpaid.

Other job tax credits are available to encourage investments. For example, in an Opportunity Zone or a Military Zone, developers can get a $3,500 tax credit for every permanent job their development creates.

Target areas include, but are not limited to, much of south Columbus, East and North Highlands, and the riverside corridor between the TSYS campus and Bibb City.

Tomlinson said now that the areas have been identified and possible solutions suggested, the next step is to give them a try. The status quo, she said, isn't a viable option.

"This gives us the base to really get something done, so we can stop talking about the potential of South Columbus and start acting on the potential of South Columbus," she said.

Members of the commission are: Co-chair Philip Thayer, Thayer Properties; Co-chair Karl Douglass, Elite Ventures Realty; Robert Anderson, Citizen's Trust Bank; Douglas Bryant, Merrill Lynch; Neil Clark, Hecht Burdeshaw Architects; Dave Erickson, GreyHawk Properties; Tom Flournoy, Flournoy Properties; Becca Hardin, Chamber of Commerce; Willette Roundtree, CB&T; Otis Scarborough, Woodruff Co.; Stella Shulman, The Jordan Co.; Ed Sprouse, Page, Scrantom, Sprouse, Tucker and Ford; Will White, Greystone Properties; Chris Woodruff, W.C. Bradley Co.