Voters to decide F’ville economic development initiative

An initiative that will place an economic redevelopment measure on the November ballot received unanimous approval April 19 from the Fayetteville City Council. The city is expected to begin an educational process for residents this summer to make the case that the initiative, the State Redevelopment Law Powers referendum, identifies specific commercial areas within the city for redevelopment and does not represent a new tax.

City Director of Planning and Economic Development Brian Wismer said if approved by the voters in November the referendum would provide the city with redevelopment powers and economic redevelopment tools that it currently does not have available. Any specific project that comes forward would have to be approved by City Council based on the merits of the project, said Wismer.

“Because these redevelopment powers are not widely known or understood by the citizens of Fayetteville, it is imperative that efforts are taken to educate and inform them of how these powers can be used to improve under-utilized properties within the city,” Wismer said. “Specifically, the public needs to understand that they would not be subjected to a new tax or a tax increase as a result of voting in favor of this referendum. City staff can not officially endorse the proposal, but merely provide factual information relating to it.”

Like the previous initiative called a Tax Allocation District (TAD) that failed by a 53-47 percent vote in 2010, this one would assist in the redevelopment of some of the city’s older commercial areas. City officials have repeatedly cited the belief that the referendum in 2010 failed because voters did not understand that a “yes” vote would not raise taxes.

So how does the redevelopment process work?

First off, the properties to be eligible area for redevelopment must be either blighted or distressed, deteriorating or ones with inadequate infrastructure. Additionally, the owners of those properties must initiate the request. One of those properties identified in 2010 was the 692 Shopping Center on North Glynn Street.

Wismer said the initiative basically freezes property values in the specific location identified for redevelopment. A local governmental entity would take out bonds to invest in the property or properties to be redeveloped, said Wismer, adding that the bond amount often goes to pay for things such as infrastructure upgrades to the property.

Meantime, the city, county and school board continue receiving taxes for properties at the frozen rate. The property owner continues to get assessments each year, though any difference in those prices beyond the frozen rate goes to pay off the bond.

Once the property is redeveloped and the bond term ends, the full tax levied will go into the tax digest and to the city, county and school system. The difference, said Wismer, is that the tax money that will be received after redevelopment will be at a much higher rate than it would have been prior to redevelopment.

While such a large-scale project would not be applicable to Fayetteville, perhaps the best-known example of a TAD was Atlantic Station near downtown Atlanta.

A potential project within the city, and one that was identified two years ago, is the 692 Shopping Center on North Glynn near the intersection with Ga. Highway 314 where the Longbranch restaurant was once located.

Constructed in 1983, the nearly 42,000 square-foot commercial property on 3.9 acres sold for $1.8 million in 2001. Ten years later in 2011, the shopping center was largely vacant and the fair market value had dropped nearly half a million dollars to $1.308 million.

City staff discussed the redevelopment initiative at the council retreat in March and the consensus was that the referendum be held on Nov. 6 in conjunction with the general election.

City Manager Joe Morton said the city this summer will begin a process to inform citizens about the referendum initiative.