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Morrow establishes Urban Redevelopment Agency

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In an effort to fast-track the progress of several SPLOST (Special Local Option Sales Tax) projects, the city of Morrow has established an Urban Redevelopment Agency.

The new agency will assume the task of completing several projects, including the first phase of a new city conference center, by this fall.

In a meeting on Wednesday morning, the city established the agency, selected officers, and reviewed its 2009 Urban Redevelopment Plan. The agency's current officers are: Jack Bell, chairman; Jeanell Bridges, vice chairman; and Valesco Tran, secretary.

The new agency's members also discussed plans to purchase a $5,080,000 bond from Bank of America in order to complete a variety of city improvement projects. The agency plans to enter into the bond agreement with the bank next Tuesday. By using the bond, the projects can be completed sooner, and SPLOST money can be used later to pay off the bond.

Immediate endeavors of the agency will include:

· Completing the construction of the first phase of the Morrow Conference Center;

· Finishing a creek restoration project at property located behind the Morrow Masonic Lodge;

· Completing several phases of the city's path system, which when complete, will connect the city through a series of golf cart paths.

According to Morrow City Manager John Lampl, Morrow may eventually call on the agency to help improve the facade of Southlake Mall, and put the finishing touches on the city's Olde Town Morrow project.

"We have some real work to do," Lampl said. He said that while the city has a Downtown Development Authority and a Housing Authority to acquire commercial and residential properties, respectively, the urban redevelopment agency will allow the city to effectively work with banks, the private sector, and homeowners to accomplish its development goals.

"Areas have to redevelop over periods of time, or they become functionally obsolete," Lampl said. "We prefer public-private partnerships, but either way, you have to have all the tools in the tool box. This gives us a great deal of flexibility."

Lampl said $4.2 million of the bond will be used to transform the upper level of Southlake Mall's abandoned, former Macy's store into a functional conference center. The center, which the city plans to open this fall, will feature three meeting rooms, a dining room, a catering kitchen, and 6,000 square feet of ballroom space.

In addition, $800,000 of the bond will be used to restore a creek area behind the Morrow Masonic Lodge on Morrow Road. The area around the creek will be lined with 12-foot wide golf cart paths, which will connect to recently-built golf cart paths near the Reynolds Nature Preserve.

Jack Bell, the new agency's chairman, said he believes the agency will facilitate the "rehabilitation" of Morrow, which will ultimately benefit the county by increasing local property values. "We will assist the city in identifying areas that are struggling and need help," he said. "We'll be able to work with those homeowners in the associated areas, bringing an increase to the value of their property."

"I want to make sure that whatever path we take that it's in the best interest of the homeowners of the city," said Jeanell Bridges, the agency's vice chairman. "I want to develop a team that will work together with the Downtown Development Authority to seek quality growth."

Lampl said all of the projects the new agency will undertake, at this time, are projects approved in the county's six-year SPLOST. He said by establishing the agency, the city will complete its SPLOST projects ahead of schedule, saving money in construction costs, and creating jobs in the process.

"These are shovel-ready projects," Lampl said. "[The new agency] does several things. It saves us money, but it allows for employment and other types of growth factors to take place, on projects that we have to build anyway. Why shouldn't we do them now?

"If you're unemployed, six years from now is a lifetime," he added. "The banks need some help, our customers need some help, the employees need some help. We think this will answer all of the questions above, and we [also] get to get some of our projects moving."