I want to warn all of you, this article caters pretty much to community development nerds. But even if you aren’t one, even if you are just someone who lives in a community, you may very well be interested in hearing about something that spends money to improve your community without using your tax dollars. Right?
I’m talking about Community Improvement Districts, or CIDs. I was lucky enough to have Perimeter CID Executive Director Ann Hanlon on my radio show last week. Having served previously in the same position of the North Fulton CID, Hanlon has been an integral part of several impactful North Fulton projects that no doubt most of you have seen and used.
In short, CIDs are pretty simple. They are an organization that manages money collected annually from commercial property owners within a specific geographical area. To the commercial property owners, it is an added tax whose dollars can only be spent in the geographical area they are in.
Have you ever wondered why all of the Ga. 400 exits in Alpharetta look well maintained and landscaped compared to the Holcomb Bridge Road exit in Roswell? It’s because the Alpharetta exits are part of the North Fulton CID, which maintains them. Did you wonder how the new bridge on Encore Parkway connecting Westside Parkway to North Point Parkway went up so fast, and is also one of the nicest bridges anywhere in North Fulton? It’s because the project got much of its initial funding from the North Fulton CID and was managed by Hanlon when she was director there.
The Encore Parkway bridge is a shining example of how impactful and useful a CID can be. The need first came up by listening to the property owners. North Point Mall was sitting right across Ga. 400 from the newly named Ameris Bank Amphitheater (formerly Verizon). There were hundreds of townhomes and condos around the amphitheater, but no one wanted to walk across the existing bridge to go to the mall. Likewise, residents on the other side had no desire to walk across it to go to the amphitheater. So using money from the CID, they designed the current bridge, which is one of the most picturesque bridges in North Fulton with pedestrian and bike lanes. Once bridge construction started, developers almost immediately began building additional townhomes and condos along Westside Parkway. And two years later, North Point Mall began reconstruction that will re-shape the way it operates.
Because the project had an independent director, Hanlon, who really only answered to the property owners and community leaders on her board, she could move quickly and efficiently to bring parties together to make it happen.
Having initial designs in hand goes a very long way when you approach entities like the Georgia Department of Transportation for funding help. As does you being a CID and giving those entities confidence that the project won’t get derailed by issues that most city and county governments have to face, for example.
In the end, Hanlon was able to get help from several entities to fund the project, and they hired the City of Alpharetta to manage the work.
Almost 30 CIDs exist throughout the metro area, and all of them have success stories to tell. One of the biggest advantages to having a CID is that you have a dedicated person, or group of people, who are solely focused on promoting economic development for a specific geographical area. The Gwinnett Place CID oversees an area along Pleasant Hill Road near I-85 that was lined with failing strip centers. To inspire redevelopment, they developed a strategic plan for that area, making sure to get buy-in from the Gwinnett County Commission along the way.
The plan focused on improving traffic flows, promoting pedestrian access, improving streetscape design, and creating a bigger “desirability of property for redevelopment.” Once the plan was complete, they reached out to 71 developers around the world, and promoted the opportunities that exist within its footprint. Then, in 2016, a developer approached them about a particular site, whose then-owner was filing for bankruptcy. CID executives introduced the new developer to economic development employees at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, Gwinnett Planning Commission and Gwinnett Commissioner Jace Brooks to “find out what the community want(ed) for that 32-acre piece of property,” said the CID’s Executive Director Joe Allen in a 2016 article in the Gwinnett Daily Post.
And last year a plan was submitted that included 776 residential units across three buildings that include lofts and town homes. There also will be a 120-room hotel, a food hall, a theater, a plaza with greenspace, and over 100,000 square feet of retail and office space.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of CIDs and thoroughly enjoyed getting to talk to Hanlon about what she did at the North Fulton CID, as well as what exciting things were happening in the very well-funded Perimeter CID. The Perimeter area is one of the fastest-growing business districts anywhere in the metro area and it was great to hear about what things Perimeter CID was doing to try to keep up. If you want to listen, please go to https://businessradiox.com/keywords/atl-developments/ and click on the show.
Geoff Smith is a mortgage banker with Assurance Financial focusing on residential home loans for refinances and home purchases.
*The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of Assurance Financial Group