JONESBORO Forest Park leaders insist they can speed up the redevelopment of the old Fort Gillem site if Clayton County Schools OKs a tax allocation district around the site, but school board leaders are hemming and hawing over the idea.
Officials from the city made their case Monday for the school system’s participation in the TAD to the Clayton County Board of Education. At stake is an expected $30 million-plus in the real property increment from property taxes, for land around the old base. The city wants to use that money to improve infrastructure on the Fort Gillem site, to make it more attractive to businesses considering a move to the area.
Fred Bryant, executive director of the Forest Park/Fort Gillem Local Redevelopment Authority, said the city, the county and the school system each receive property taxes from that area — except for those properties which belong to the city, county, state or federal governments.
“The school board receives a portion of the real property increment and personal property increments from property taxes,” said Bryant, after the presentation to the school board. “We are asking them to give up the real property increment they receive, but not the personal property increment, so it can be used to pay for these improvements.”
School system attorneys will spend the next month reviewing Forest Park’s request, and preparing an analysis for the school board.
Forest Park has been working on plans to redevelop the Fort Gillem site as a place for businesses for seven years, since the federal government announce it would close the base. The Army retained only a small portion of the site, to house a small number of offices, including the military’s crime lab, for the Atlanta area. The pull-out of Army troops from Fort Gillem was completed last year.
Bryant explained many of the buildings at Fort Gillem are old — some of them date back to World War II — and they cannot be used for housing a business. Therefore, they have to be torn down, he said. Roads also have to be built, he added, so businesses will be able to go further into the Fort Gillem site to build their facilities. He said it could take as many as 25 years to fully build out the site.
The redevelopment authority’s executive director said the city and the county have already signed off on the TAD, meaning the school system is so far the only holdout on the deal.
“You are the last piece of the TAD puzzle,” said Bryant, to school board members.
Some school board members, including board Chairperson Pam Adamson, showed reluctance to sign on for the TAD, however.
“I’m not as convinced about the tax revenues we could see from this,” Adamson said.
Board member Charlton Bivins questioned what “risks” the school district would face from joining the TAD. Bryant explained the risk is “if companies don’t move to the site, then there would be no tax dollars generated.”
Bryant and Forest Park City Manager John Parker explained after their presentation that, because the property is in the hands of the redevelopment authority — which is an arm of the city government — no property taxes are being generated on the old base at this time.
Property taxes will come in time, however, as the authority sells off parcels of the site to businesses willing to build facilities on the land, said Bryant.
He added the infrastructure first must be built, though.
“By having infrastructure in place, we will create an environment where a business will come in and say ‘We want to buy 100, to 150 acres of property to build our facility here,’ and then the land will begin to generate property tax revenues,” said Bryant.
He admitted the redevelopment authority could move forward without the school system’s participation. Bryant added, though, that the TAD would only generate about $30.5 million, which is half of the funding it could produce with the school system’s involvement.
Bryant said some infrastructure improvements may not happen at all, if the school system refuses to participate, because the funding wouldn’t be there to pay for them.
He dangled the prospect of using TAD funds to build a multi-purpose facility — which could host concerts, athletic events and high school graduations — on the old army base site. It would be built with “surplus TAD” funds. School system officials have long coveted a large multi-use facility so they could bring high school graduations back the county.
The commencement ceremonies have been held in Atlanta since 2007. The school board has continually groaned for years about having to hold graduation ceremonies in Atlanta, but school system officials have always argued it had to be done because there is no indoor facility in the county large enough to hold the commencements.
The prospect of gaining a multi-use facility caught the attention of some board members who seemed intrigued by the idea of being able to move graduations back to the county.
“We just say ‘No’ a lot, and sometimes we need to say ‘Yes,’ ” said board member Jessie Goree.
But, Adamson held firm in her opposition to the idea, suggesting the school system could use taxpayer dollars to build its own multi-use facility.
“Frankly, we could do a SPLOST and have an auditorium built in five years,” she said.