Police reports show several windows on buildings at the Olde Towne Morrow site have been destroyed, possibly by people throwing rocks through them.
MORROW A $13 million taxpayer-funded commercial development that was supposed to draw tourists and shoppers to Morrow is instead attracting vandals and falling into ruin.
Gates on three homes at the development have been forced open by someone to the point that gate doors have to be replaced. One of the back gate doors on a structure city officials frequently refer to as “The Blue House” has been so badly damaged that only half of the door’s frame is left. Two windows on what is called “The Yellow House” have been shattered.
And, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
“We’ve had a few reports over the last year or so that there has been some property damage over at Olde Towne and we’ve had to increase our presence over there as a result,” said Morrow Police Capt. James Callaway.
Morrow police have filed three reports of property destruction in the last 14 months and they were expected to file a fourth report Thursday after Clayton News Daily discovered severe damage at the property this week. Callaway said patrols were immediately sent to check the houses Tuesday night after a reporter first asked police about the damage.
“Olde Towne Morrow” was intended to be a new revenue source for the city, but it became a shuttered symbol of wasteful government spending and mismanagement when it was shut down nearly two years ago by town leaders. Among the development’s problems were a lack of planning, few tenants paying rent and violations of the city’s fire code and the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.
Even though the stores left long ago, the city still has to pay “approximately $8,000 to $10,000 per year” for utilities and maintenance, said Morrow Planning and Economic Development Director Michael McLaughlin.
The commercial development for which taxpayers are paying is now on the verge of becoming a public eyesore.
In addition to the vandalism, a trip to the property revealed construction debris left to rot on the back porch of “The Blue House,” floorboards beginning to bow in the smaller of two white houses at the site, random trash next to another house and an empty insecticide bottle laying in the bushes behind “The Blue House.”
McLaughlin repeatedly said he had “no definitive answer” to many questions posed about “Olde Towne.” He also offered a vague answer about what the city is doing to address the issue.
“Building maintenance plans are in place to ensure the development does not become an eyesore,” he said.
Vandalism and disrepair galore
Police reports show the city has documented cases of vandalism at “Olde Towne” dating back to August 8, 2011.
In a report from that date, Officer J. Stroud wrote the rear windows and rear door of the old Kristy’s Trees shop were “busted out” and tire tracks, believed to have been left by a motor bike, were found on the boardwalk behind the row of shops at the development. A glass pane at another shop was also broken, according to the report.
Stroud also noted in his report that two windows at “The Yellow House” were broken. The description of the windows locations matched two broken windows found this week. In all, the report states the cost of the damage found at the time totaled $2,100.
“Rocks were also located inside Kristy’s Trees and the yellow house and the damage to the 4000 unit was also consistent with a rock,” Stroud wrote in his report at the time.
Another police report from November 24, 2011 shows $500 in damage was discovered during a property check. The reports states two windows were “shattered, but not entirely broken out” and two rocks were found on the ground in front of the windows.
A third report from August 16 of this year shows police found two broken windows at another shop and rocks on the floor inside the shop during another property check. The damage was estimated at $500, according to the police report.
“These types of crimes tend to be generated by juveniles,” said Callaway. He added the police department has increased patrols and property checks at Olde Towne since the first damage was reported.
The total of the damage estimates listed in the police reports is $3,100, but McLaughlin disputes those figures.
“A guess of the cost of unforeseen repairs such as the 3 vandal incidents may be approximately $500 to date,” he said.
McLaughlin said city officials scheduled repairs for the damage discovered by Clayton News Daily after the newspaper brought it to their attention. He also minimized the severity of the issue.
“Vandalism can happen in both occupied and unoccupied buildings and in the best and worst of neighborhoods,” said McLaughlin. “It might be helpful for you to investigate the level of vandalism as a whole in Morrow, as well as other communities, to determine a proper comparative and for the purpose of assessing if there is a problem here beyond the norm.”
What happened to Olde Towne?
The damage and deterioration at Olde Towne will not help efforts to redevelop the site into something that can recoup the tax dollars sunk into it.
Olde Towne was never meant to be closed permanently, but efforts to turn it around into something that can make back what its cost taxpayers has drug on a snail’s pace.
Initially, the city needed to go back and conduct studies which were never done for Olde Towne. There was talk the city might work with Georgia’s tourism office to turn it into a tourist information center, or that it might be sold to Southlake Mall but those rumors quickly died down. In May, the Morrow Downtown Development Authority voted to have McLaughlin write and send out a Request For Proposals, or RFP, to commercial developers to see into what the site could become.
Little else has been heard about the RFP since then. McLaughlin said that is be “there was no definitive time frame” for completing it.
“We are following a proper due diligence approach to its preparation,” said McLaughlin.