Clayton County economic development Director Grant Wainscott talks about plans for a trade center and small business incubator facility during a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax forum Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
JONESBORO — Although Southern Regional Medical Center’s financial situation has dominated talks among officials about the proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, many residents at a forum Tuesday wanted to talk about something else.
Most of the residents who addressed a panel of hospital and county officials at the SPLOST forum wanted to know what was going on with economic development. The commercial corridors along Mt. Zion Road and Tara Boulevard were the main areas residents expressed concerns about. Both areas have seen a number of retail businesses leave in recent years.
“I’m concerned about the mall area,” said Jonesboro resident Henry Pettway. “It continues to go to pot, so to speak. The money is here in Clayton County. It’s just that most of it goes to the north side where there are better malls to drop that money. If there was something that could be done to entice businesses back to the mall area, that would be a good starting point for economic development.”
There are two items on the county’s SPLOST project list that deal with economic development. One is a $5 million trade center and small business incubator. The other is $300,000 for “Welcome to Clayton County” signs that will be placed at the county’s 19 exits on interstates 75, 285 and 675, said economic development Director Grant Wainscott.
The trade center and small business incubator will be the main piece of the Economic Development Department’s portion of the SPLOST list, though. The facility will be built at University Station site across from the Georgia and National Archives on Jonesboro Road in Morrow.
Wainscott told attendees at the forum that the building is intended to be a “one-stop shop”-type facility where prospective business owners can work with economic development officials, apply for permits and inquire about business incentives.
“That really sends a message that we’re serious about economic development because there’s one place that you go for economic development,” said Wainscott. “You know you’re going to be treated with respect, you’re going to be treated with dignity and you’re going to find the help that you need.”
It will also have a ticket office for attractions and events around the county, Wainscott said.
Wainscott said the Mt. Zion area is where his office is focusing its retail-related attention. In recent years, several stores along that corridor have shut their doors. The list of stores that have left the Mt. Zion area include J.C. Penny’s, Haverty’s, Toys R Us, Babies R Us and Target.
At one point last year, Southlake Mall itself was up for auction on the steps of the Harold R. Banke Justice Center and it is currently in receivership. The mall’s economic health is important to the county, Wainscott said, because it is key that sets the tone for retail in the Mt. Zion area.
“Really as the mall goes, so goes the rest of Mt. Zion,” he said. “It’s important that we draw a line in the sand and say, ‘This is what’s important to us and we’re going to put our resources into it.”
At the same time, Wainscott said the Truett’s Grill, Olive Garden and Steak and Shake locations in that area are “top performing retailers” in their respective restaurant chains. But those successes are juxtaposed against the flight of other retailers.
“We’ve got a lot of great restaurants, but we’ve got a lot of dark, empty spaces as well so there’s a lot of work to be done,” Wainscott said.
Some residents said they would also like to see improved lighting on major roads, including Tara Boulevard, to make them more attractive at night. Jonesboro resident Mary Hodges said she has friends who won’t come to that area at night because they feel it is poorly lit and unsafe.
“It’s not inviting,” Hodges said.
Transportation and Development Director Jeff Metarko said county would be responsible for paying for any lighting that is installed on Tara Boulevard even though the road itself falls under the purview of the Georgia Department of Transportation.
But lighting is just one issue that would have be to addressed. It also underscores the fact that economic development touches multiple areas of county government.
The SPLOST list reflects that fact. There are some economic development-related projects that are spread across other county departments, including some road and lighting projects. Wainscott said projects that make roadways safer and more attractive-looking are one way to attract businesses to an area.
One such project the county is looking at doing with the proposed SPLOST would be the re-alignment of Gilbert Road in the Mountain View area. Wainscott said there have been businesses that have shown interest in building facilities in that area, but they fell through because the current winding conditions on the road make it hazardous for small cars and large trucks.
If the SPLOST is approved, Wainscott said the Gilbert Road realignment would fix those issues and open that area up to commercial development.
The next forum is a month away
County officials are planning to hold another SPLOST forum April 15 from 5:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m., at the Board of Commissioners Building, 112 Smith St. in Jonesboro. Department heads and hospital officials are expected to participate in that forum as well to explain their projects.
Chief Operating Officer Arrelle Anderson said county officials will try to have representatives of Clayton County’s seven cities at that meeting to explain the projects they plan to fund with SPLOST dollars.
Voters will decide whether to approve the SPLOST during a referendum held as part of the May 20 primary election.
Check Saturday’s Clayton News Daily for details about discussions about the hospital that took place during the forum. The full proposed list of county and municipal SPLOST projects can be found at www.news-daily.com. To find the lists, click on the “Documents” section which can be found under the “Multimedia” tab at the top of the website.