Friday, February 1, 2013
Members of the city’s Downtown Development Authority have a unified vision for Fort Oglethorpe, are committed to revitalizing its central business district and are willing to accept responsibility for guiding development of the LaFayette Road corridor.
But moving forward with that vision has been, and continues to be, a slow process.
Five of the board’s seven members attended the DDA’s first meeting of 2013 last week and talked about ongoing projects and the possibility of adding to the group’s agenda.
Chairman Jeff Epperson gave an update of a REFRESH Fort Oglethorpe redevelopment plan for the section of LaFayette Road extending from Battlefield Parkway to the Chickamauga National Military Park entrance.
“Slow, but still on track,” is how Epperson described work being done by the Jaegar Company to prepare a blueprint for renovation of the city’s historic core.
In the nearly two years since proposals for such a project began, public meetings have been held, preliminary plans have been drawn and presentations by local and state officials tasked with improving the livability and economic viability of the historic district have been made.
Ambitious, but not overly so, the proposed redesign would change the look, feel and traffic flow along LaFayette Road. Supporters see it as a way to promote the city — to attract new businesses and help existing businesses entice new clientele to the district.
“We will have something to pitch when the plan is prepared,” Epperson said.
Coupled with the REFRESH plan is a proposal to gain state recognition of an Opportunity Zone that would offer economic incentives to businesses both within and outside the “refresh” area.
The DDA has been working with the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission to prepare plans for an Opportunity Zone that could be presented to the Department of Community Affairs for review. If such a zone is approved by the DCA commissioner, businesses would qualify for hefty tax credits for every new hire they make within the district’s boundaries.
DDA board member Louis Hamm, also a member of the City Council, brought to the board’s attention a proposed piece of legislation that could reward investors just as opportunity zones reward job creators.
The Georgia Downtown Renaissance Act would offer incentives to buy or improve downtown buildings.
“Local DDAs are being asked to contact their local delegation to push this plan,” Hamm said.
The board also talked about a need to promote Fort Oglethorpe during events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga. They agreed it will be particularly important when hundreds of thousands are expected to attend a re-enactment of the three-day battle that occurred there in September 1863.
Derek Rogers and Harold Silcox suggested that offering a park-and-ride shuttle service from Barnhardt Circle to the re-enactment that will be staged at McLemore’s Cove could not only generate revenue but also focus attention on the city.
“It will be a good thing for Fort Oglethorpe,” Ron Davis said.
Epperson suggested the city might consider installing banners that would identify and direct traffic to “historic downtown Fort Oglethorpe.”