The Renaissance Act, which is being pushed by the Georgia Municipal Association and other organizations, could prove to be the knight in shining armor for many communities, even Rome. It will be introduced in the upcoming session of the Georgia General Assembly and is being designed to offer state tax incentives for entrepreneurs willing to make significant private investment in downtown communities across the state.
Paul Radford, the deputy director for external affairs for the Georgia Municipal Association, will be discussing the proposed legislation during a visit to the Rome Seven Hills Rotary Club on Jan. 15, and again with the Rome Exchange Club on Feb. 1.
“It’s a new day in Georgia when we’ve got organizations like the Georgia Municipal Association talking the talk, walking the walk and really being committed to Georgia downtowns,” Arnold said.
“How appropriate that it is the GMA when they are all about city government.” The legislation is expected to include at least three types of tax incentives. A $20 million pool of tax credits is being proposed specifically for investment in buildings and physical improvements to properties, many of which in some of Georgia’s smaller downtown communities are in deplorable condition.
A $5 million pool of tax credits would be made available for the acquisition of, or improvement to, owner-occupied residential space in downtown districts.
The third incentive would also involve a $5 million pool of tax credits for cash contributions to the Georgia Renaissance Fund, which would in turn be used to create and make available low-interest capital funds that would be loaned to downtown investors.
The Georgia Municipal Association has provided the Georgia Cities loan program to help with downtown rehabilitation efforts, and Rome has taken advantage of that program on numerous occasions.
The maximum loan amount available through that program, which was initiated in 2002, is $250,000. The Forrest Place LLC group received the maximum loan in that very first year.
Since then five other downtown Rome projects have received the maximum amount, including the West Lofts project on Second Avenue in 2004, the Battey Downtown LLC for the Hawthorn Suites in 2004, and Dr. Matt Mumber for the Cherokee Lodge renovation in 2006.
Ira Levy also received the maximum amount for work at 300 Broad St. and 519 Broad St.
Smaller loans have been made during the past 10 years: Greg and Shani Sumner, $122,000 for work at 316 Broad; Holly Bradfield received $116,000 for work at 407-409 Broad; Dr. Joe Vargo of JDV & JSV LLC received $225,000 for his renovation of the old RC Cola building on Second Avenue; and architect Robert Noble received $131,900 for his renovation at 119 S. Broad.
In 2011 Joyce Greene Manning got $48,000 for the small building adjacent to Greene’s Jewelers; Nancy Brown received $106,000 for acquisition of the building occupied by her business, Elysium. Attorney Dave Guldenschuh received $48,000 for work on his new offices on East First Street.
Arnold said the DDA has made applications for two Georgia Cities loans in 2012, one for Gregg and Diane Lewis in the amount of $204,000 for work at 413-417 Broad St., and another for $100,000 for the Historic DeSoto Theatre Foundation for continuing work in the historic theater.
Georgia Renaissance Act
Is a new tax credit program more attractive than an up-front loan?
“But what if you can get both. That’s the thing here; you are eligible for both, so that just makes the package even more attractive,” Arnold said. “Just having one source is good, but having multiple layers just increases our odds for growth and development in our downtowns.”
A GMA fact sheet about the proposed Renaissance Act claims that similar programs designed to spur reinvestment in downtowns have returned $3.30 for every $1 of tax credit paid out within a five-year window. The programs have also supposedly leveraged another $16 in outside investment for each dollar of tax credits.
The GMA estimates that 109 new jobs will be created for each $1 million in tax credits, or nearly 2,200 new jobs created by small businesses each year.
The GMA leadership believes that viable downtown communities across the state provide a true reading of the pulse of local economies.
“Failing to make strategic investments in our downtowns will cause our state to lose its competitive edge in recruiting,” reads the GMA website devoted to the Georgia Renaissance Act.
“Healthy and vibrant downtowns make our state attractive in recruiting new business. And our downtowns play a very important role in attracting an educated workforce, young people and what many call the ‘creative class.’”
State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said she has not seen the proposed legislation yet.
“I look forward to seeing exactly
what the legislation says,” Dempsey said. “I have great respect for the municipal association, so hopefully we can come together and find a way to help our downtowns thrive.”
While the legislature debates the merits or disadvantages of the Renaissance Act, Rome’s Downtown Development Authority will go to work implementing aspects of a new master plan that was unveiled by Danny Bivins of the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute earlier this month.
“The DDA board will decide which items we can tackle in 2013. They’ll be a part of our adopted work plan,” Arnold said. “The City Commission will be looking at it when they have their retreat, and hopefully they’ll take on a few of the items.”
Items that can’t be tackled in 2013 will be included in short- and long-term work programs for the future.