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Morrow seeks Southlake Mall development study

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Morrow City Council voted this week to pursue a $100,000 Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) program grant, through the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). If officials are successful, the grant would fund a study to prime the Southlake Mall area for mixed-use redevelopment.

According to City Clerk Evyonne Browning, the council unanimously adopted a resolution to pursue the grant on Monday (Councilman Charles Sorrow was absent). If awarded the grant, the city will have to match it by 20 percent ($20,000), according to Browning.

Morrow Grants Administrator Sylvia Redic said the application deadline for the LCI grant is Friday, Nov. 20.

The grant, she said, would fund a study to assess the potential of providing greater pedestrian accessibility to the Olde Town Morrow and Southlake Mall areas. It would also look at bringing mixed-use residential and commercial development to parcels along Ga. Highway 54, between the Morrow Wal-Mart Supercenter and the Southlake Festival Shopping Center.

"Some of the parcels around Olde Town Morrow are ripe for being mixed-use development," Redic said. "We want places where we can live, work, play, and eat. The biggest place where we have that potential is the Southlake Mall area. That is why we are doing the study. If we can get some good, strong data and information, it may enable us to leverage additional funding or community support."

Rob LeBeau, senior principal planner for the ARC and manager of the LCI program, said LCI grants are highly competitive and typically given to projects that "can attract new development" and "connect employment areas to residential areas."

In 2000, the City of Morrow got an LCI grant to begin work on a commuter rail station near the entrance of Clayton State University. This year, Henry County was successful with a grant request that would help bring mixed-use development to the section of Interstate 75 between Hudson Bridge Road and Jonesboro Road.

LeBeau said he believes Morrow has a good chance of receiving an LCI grant to aid in the redevelopment of the Southlake Mall area. "Morrow is a good site for redevelopment," he said. "Many malls throughout the area, not just in Atlanta, are looking at redeveloping. Part of what we are looking at is, can it attract new development and can it be used for mixed-use development? The other component is the transportation aspect ... Can people connect to it by walking, or bicycles? If it is solely car dependent, it is not reaching the goals of the LCI program.

"Morrow did an LCI study back in 2000 at the entrance of the college [Clayton State University]," he added. "Potentially, that would be a stop on the Atlanta-to-Lovejoy rail line. That would help their case when applying for additional funds."

Redic said that part of the city's plans for redevelopment of the mall area include connecting the mall to a 30-acre green-space area off Skylark Drive in Morrow, through the use of a pedestrian underpass, or overpass, across Interstate 75. The area, which the city purchased for $381,000 in June of this year, sits next to several neighborhoods behind Haynie Elementary School.

Redic believes the LCI grant would make the plans more viable. "The LCI [grant] wouldn't fund an overpass alone, because it doesn't address the synergy of the area," she said. "We know ultimately, if we are going to make Morrow a walkable city, we are going to have to get under or over that interstate. We feel like with a study, we can maximize the potential, and increase the buy-in."

In other business on Monday, the city council voted in favor of an ordinance to increase Morrow's occupancy (hotel-motel) tax from 6 percent to 8 percent. Provided the Georgia General Assembly enacts local legislation allowing Morrow to levy the higher tax, the new rate would go into effect as of July 1, 2010, Browning said.

According to Browning, the 8 percent tax would be added to the lodging charge of any hotel, motel, inn, lodge, tourist camp, tourist cabin, or campground within the city limits. Of the tax proceeds, 3 percent would be used for general city operations, 3.5 percent for the purpose of promoting tourism, conventions, and trade shows; 1 percent for promoting the city and paying for the Morrow Tourist Center, and 0.5 percent to pay for tourism product development.

Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.