(The Center Square) — Smyrna officials are contemplating spending $15.8 million to buy a church property as part of an update to the city’s downtown.
After selling, the church would lease the building from the city for two years while they build their new structure on land they plan to purchase from the city for $3.3 million.
“This is an opportunity that any city would welcome the chance to have before them,” Mayor Derek Norton said during his recent State of the City address.
“The city during that two-year timeframe would conduct market studies and engage developers to get a sense of what’s possible on that site, which could include, at least in my mind, new restaurants, retail, housing, parking, and green space,” Norton said. “…Whatever pathway forward has chosen, the property will be on the tax digest for the first time in 100 years or more, creating tremendous value for the city beyond just the new amenities for years and years to come.”
The plan has drawn mixed reactions from Smyrna residents.
Before joining Smyrna, Andrea Worthy, the city’s economic development director, worked in Sandy Springs and was on the team responsible for the City Springs development, which created a new downtown.
“In the Sandy Springs case, because the citizens wanted a performing arts center in their downtown, they made a choice to make sure that that was included, knowing that they were going to be subsidizing that project for years,” Worthy told The Center Square following a recent public meeting.
“…You could have a developer out there today, a private developer today who could probably make that $15 million back and put them out there and from a tax perspective, we could have that money back in 10 years,” Worthy added. “But the reality is, what do the citizens want to see there? And that may or may not give a financial ROI in a 10-year timeframe.”
The city has economic winds at its back. Thanks to rising property values in the area, its net taxes levied increased by about 50.3% between 2018 and 2023.
In 1989, the city spent $40 million to buy 40 acres of property to develop a new downtown, Rep. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna, told The Center Square.
“It took a while; we redeveloped this 40 acres, built this community center and the library,” Stoner said. “Within five years, within a two-mile radius of the downtown, because of all the housing development that came in, … you had about a $250 million increase in … property values within a two-mile radius, which of course meant it generated more property taxes for the city.
“That’s how you look at that in the sense of an ROI,” the lawmaker added. “It’s not so much what you get off the property directly. It’s you set a standard, or you do a type of development that brings the private sector in to build around it. And that usually raises your values of the properties or generates more taxes in different ways.”
By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor