Members of the Cartersville City Council discussed plans to sell the old police station building at 178 West Main St. at a work session last week, with debate emerging regarding the possibility of a tax allocation district (TAD) designation for the property.
Cartersville City Manager Dan Porta said an appraisal from several years ago listed the value of the property — which currently houses the City’s municipal court — at $750,000. Bartow County Board of Tax Assessors data lists the 2020 fair market value of the property at $1,138,662.
“I can’t say for sure what a developer’s going to say their needs are, without going out to market,” Porta told council members.
Documents exhibited at the work session indicates the City is looking for “qualified firms/teams” to purchase and redevelop the property, and in the process “increase residential density, vitality and diversity of downtown Cartersville.”
Additional “goals” listed for the property are “increase retail/commercial units along the streetscape” and “maximize the financial return to the City for the sale of the property.”
Mayor Matt Santini said he supported issuing requests for proposals (RFPs) from potential developers.
“We can decide from there whether or not that’s something we can do if we feel it’s going to benefit the City, but not feel strapped that we actually have to do it,” he said. “If we didn’t feel like we cast a large enough net or didn’t feel like that approach worked the first time, it would give us an opportunity to maybe go an alternate route.”
Porta’s documents depict a proposed RFP timetable with a pre-proposal meeting and site tour scheduled for Jan. 27 and the deadline for submittal of questions listed as Feb. 2.
That timetable indicates the City would publish responses to the RFP inquiries on Feb. 5. Price proposals would be due Feb. 23, with RFP interviews before an evaluation committee slated for the week of March 8-12.
The documents indicate that City officials will establish a “selection committee” to evaluate the RFPs.
Cartersville Assistant City Attorney Keith Lovell said applicants may request a TAD from the City to cover possible redevelopment costs associated with the project, similar to the mechanism used to bring the Kroger Marketplace shopping center project on the other end of Main Street to fruition.
“They came to us and said ‘Look, we want to develop it, but it only works if we do it as a TAD and roll in some of these public development costs and get reimbursed for them through a bond financing structure,’” Lovell said. “That’s the exact same thing that somebody making a request on this would do.”
Documents from Porta make it clear what the City wants to see emerge from the property.
“A project that is residentially-focused, providing market-rate rental apartments, condominiums and/or townhomes that can appeal to those currently living and/or working in the city of Cartersville, and possibly one that provides commercial space fronting along Main Street,” the executive summary reads. “A project focused on a hotel is also acceptable.”
As Santini noted, however, the overall scale of the police station redevelopment project may not be large enough that a TAD designation makes financial sense.
“It does say that the City will be open to having a TAD,” Lovell said. “So I would assume anybody making a proposal based on this RFP would probably include that in, if the economics worked for them.”
At one point, Councilman Jayce Stepp proposed the formation of a “small committee” to evaluate additional downtown revitalization projects.
“Some cities will actually go ahead and do urban redevelopment plans,” Lovell responded. “This is what this area could be, these are the tools the City has to help you as a developer if you want to come in and do this.”
Lovell said the exact opposite thing, however, happened in the City of Woodstock.
“A private developer comes in and says ‘This is what I want to do, I need this and this from you and it only works if you give me this big pot of money and give me this right of way and do these improvements and give me this TAD,’” he said. “And Woodstock agreed to do that … and then it didn’t work, but it worked out in the end for everybody.”
Lovell said he’s personally had discussions with “four or five different developers” seeking TAD designations for certain proposed projects over the last year alone.
“There’s one thing the City has, Cartersville has going for it and going against it at the same time,” Lovell said. “Cartersville’s millage rate is 2.5, 3.0 … the thing about all of these TADs and everything is, what they rely on is using the money that you would have paid in taxes to do other improvements. The Cartersville portion of any taxes assessed on any individual is so small that it really doesn’t make a decision.”
Indeed, Lovell said it’s not until the local school system and County millage rates are factored into the equation that “you start talking real money that they can use for these types of projects.”
Speaking with developers, Stepp said he’s seen more interest in building code variances “and different things you’ve got to do to invest” than TAD designations.
“Some communities can adopt amendments to it if you want to, but the codes are there and the various building inspectors have the right to do things or not to do things under those codes,” Lovell said. “But most of them tend to go by the codes, because they’re designed for safety — they don’t have it in there just to have it in there.”
Councilman Cary Roth said he believes downtown revitalization plans should be the purview of the Cartersville Downtown Development Authority (DDA.)
“They have the tools and the avenues to draw people down here, to do development,” he said. “I think that they are here to develop strong businesses in our downtown … and can probably answer some of these questions that we have.”
Porta concluded the discussion by noting that there will be “an open forum” for developers to elaborate on their ideas for the property with City officials.
“We’ll have a discussion with them and let them share their thoughts and further follow-up meetings to answer any questions, if they want to apply for a TAD or ask for any other options for this,” he said. “We’ll try to do the best job we can to market this property.”