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Forest Park seeks county support for project

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In order to fulfill its vision for a new Main Street, and to prepare the Fort Gillem area for redevelopment, the City of Forest Park recently established a new Tax Allocation District (TAD).

To maximize the TAD's full potential, the city is asking the county to donate the county's portion of TAD proceeds to the redevelopment effort.

The geographical boundaries of the TAD, which were approved on Dec. 31, 2008, encompass the city's entire Main Street corridor, as well the land the Army will vacate in Sep. 2011, when it closes the Fort Gillem Army base.

The mixed-use development the city plans to build, within the TAD, is expected to generate nearly 20,000 jobs, according to city officials.

The city's portion of any incremental property tax increases, assessed to properties within the TAD, will go toward funding vital infrastructure improvements, according to Rosalind Rubens Newell, Forest Park's outside legal counsel for the TAD project.

She said the city is asking the county to contribute its portion of any property tax increases to the effort.

"The city creates [the TAD], but the city can only contribute its own increment from the city's property taxes," Newell said. "Right now, we are working on making the county comfortable with the Main Street redevelopment. ... We want the county to approve a resolution to grant its permission to use the county portion of the incremental taxes towards redevelopment within the TAD."

On Tuesday, the city was scheduled to make a presentation to the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC). However, the presentation was removed from Tuesday night's agenda, without comment.

John Parker, Forest Park's city manager, said TAD funding would be an important tool in priming the area for redevelopment, by paying for road, water line, sewer line, and electrical improvements. He said the county's cooperation is key to making the TAD work.

"A TAD is always an important development tool in any redevelopment project, because of the costs associated with preparing areas for redevelopment," said Parker. "If the developer has to flip that bill themselves, it makes the project too expensive to do.

"If the city has to fund these things strictly on their own, without the help of the county, then a TAD project is really worthless," Parker said. "[The county's portion of property tax revenues] would be about 80 percent of what the city contributes."

Parker said that Georgia law currently prohibits school systems from donating their property tax increments to TAD projects. However, House Bill 63, now headed for committee consideration in the State Senate, would overturn that provision.

"The school board's [portion of property tax revenues] is probably 200 percent more than what the city contributes," Parker said. "That would be a real significant help. We will also be discussing this with the school board as soon as we know what the legislation will allow."

The 2009 Georgia legislative session is expected to end on April 3.

Grant Wainscott, Clayton County's economic development director, said he could not speak on behalf of the BOC, in regard to their support of Forest Park's TAD project. However, he said the closure of Fort Gillem will generate a wealth of redevelopment opportunities for the city and the county, given the Army base's size and location.

"All that acreage is military owned ... it's non-taxable land," Wainscott said. "If you just put a portion of that land back into the tax roll, and back into development, you've put a tremendous tool back into the hands of the city. It has a rail spur, it's flat, relatively ... there is a myriad of things that can be done over there."

BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Parker said the redevelopment of Forest Park's downtown would bring residents back to the area and create economic opportunities that would greatly expand the county's tax base. "What's good for Forest Park, is good for Clayton County," he said. "This would be the generator that would take the Clayton County area out of this economic downturn that we are in now. It can happen much quicker, if we have the cooperation of the county."

The city is expected to go before the BOC again in April.