Partnerships drive Catoosa economic development

Partnerships drive Catoosa economic development

July 18th, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Local Regional News

Examples of past and future cooperation between the county's Economic Development Authority and its two municipalities were provided during last week's Catoosa County EDA board meeting.

Local governments cannot grant direct tax relief or assistance to private enterprises. Instead, elected officials can appoint an economic development board to handle marketing and negotiating the sale or lease of public land to private enterprises.

The EDA is tasked with attracting commercial or industrial development to county-owned lands regardless of the property being within a municipality or unincorporated area of the county. The EDA can also partner with either or both of Catoosa County's cities to promote development in the area.

Fort Oglethorpe gaining a road, eventually

The partnership between Fort Oglethorpe and the local EDA that resulted in Costco coming to Catoosa County was illustrated last week when ownership of a roadway was transferred from the county to the city.

One of the incentives offered to Costco involved site preparation at the junction of Scruggs and Cloud Springs roads that included building roads, including what is now known as Cobb Parkway.

The EDA acted as agent in purchasing property, preparing it for construction and providing necessary infrastructure for what was originally called Project Hilltop.

Named to commemorate the efforts of the late Ronnie Cobb, who as mayor of Fort Oglethorpe was instrumental in the project's success, the road was built on county-owned land with taxpayer funding.

That roughly $3.4 million county investment is being repaid with tax revenue collected from sales at Costco.

The costs of providing roads and utilities will be dealt with by the EDA but from the first it was agreed that Fort Oglethorpe, since it will benefit most from taxes collected at Costco, would assume maintenance of the road leading to that business.

Knowing that, the road was built to the city's standards and passed city inspection during and after construction. That is why the parkway is now being turned over to the city, allowing Fort Oglethorpe to police and maintain the road.

Such a transfer is not difficult, but it does require following a set sequence of legal transfers. Two weeks ago, county commissioners approved transferring responsibility for the road to the city, but, since the EDA holds title to the Costco site, that could not occur until the transfer is approved by the development board.

That meant the city, which met last Monday, was unable to immediately accept the road as a city street because the EDA, which met the following day, had not approved the transfer.

Everything involving the county and its EDA has now been approved and the road can successfully be turned over to the city during the next council meeting in Fort Oglethorpe.

Ringgold's plans considered

The EDA and Ringgold are entering a similar but different arrangement.

Even before a tornado radically altered Ringgold's cityscape on the evening of April 27, 2011, city leaders were developing aesthetic guidelines for new development and renovation of existing downtown structures.

A goal was to better meld the look and feel of the traditional downtown which centers on U.S. Highway 41 with the newer commercial development in the area of state Highway 151 and Interstate 75.

Last week, the EDA asked Ringgold officials to report on their vision of how they want the city to look as it grows.

In particular, the two groups discussed how an EDA property that housed the local Division of Family and Children Services office prior to being destroyed by the tornado fits into the city's future. Located at the corner of Sparks and Nashville streets, the site is a prime piece of real estate in an area that is rapidly rebuilding.

City Manager Dan Wright, Councilman G. Larry Black and Vice Mayor Randall Franks outlined the city's agreed-on design standards for commercial development in the Highway 151 and downtown areas.

"The key is working with developers, showing them how this will work for them without being too restrictive," Franks said of the storefront guidelines.

Design standards would extend the "Mayberry-like" feel of downtown, preserving the old while embracing the new.

"We're trying to entice young people to return to Ringgold," Wright said.

EDA board members were unanimous in support of the city's efforts and were willing to help when marketing the former DFCS site.

"This is great," EDA Chairman Randall Peters said. "The property is obviously for sale, but I'd like to think it is not for sale to whomever [just] has the money. It is there for development to help the town and the county."

EDA board member Stephanie Dickert asked if the plan has been put in place, adding that "One of the things you see in successful communities is a sense of continuity."

Wright offered the new Price Drugs building as an example of a design originally conceived pre-tornado that was altered to better adhere to the suggested aesthetic guidelines when it became part of the rebuilding in Ringgold.

"I would be all for cooperating with any developments that are being considered," Peters said. "We can work hand in hand with the city."

For a start, that involves the city and EDA working together to create signage to advertise the DFCS site.

"We want something other than just a 'For Sale' sign," EDA member Jim Emberson said.

Peters, who serves on both the EDA and the Ringgold Downtown Development Authority boards, volunteered as liason between the city and EDA regarding development.

He is already at work in that capacity.

"We'll get together for wordage on a sign," he said.