Officials discuss battlefield 'gateway' incentives

Officials discuss battlefield 'gateway' incentives

July 17th, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

Fort Oglethorpe officials are discussing tax breaks, low-interest loans and other incentives to revitalize a section of LaFayette Road just north of the Chickamauga Battlefield.

Last week leaders heard from representatives of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. They outlined the possibility of declaring the corridor an "opportunity zone," which would qualify businesses there for benefits from the state.

The program allows new and current businesses in designated areas that are blighted or underdeveloped to get tax credits for creating new jobs. Other programs would allow businesses to take out loans at 2 and 3 percent interest that partially would be backed by the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission.

Patrick Vickers, an economic field representative for the state department, said the program seemed like a "no-brainer" for the area.

Mayor Lynn Long, who has made revitalizing LaFayette Road his top objective this year, stressed the importance of revamping the area before the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga in 2013.

"We're truly going to drop the ball if we don't take advantage," he said. "Activity creates activity."

Leaders and residents have lamented the fading strip of shops along LaFayette Road, which serves as a gateway to the nation's oldest military park, and now they appear poised to do something about it.

The Appalachian Regional Commission and Fort Oglethorpe have pledged $10,000 each to develop a "Gateway Initiative" master plan. They've already discussed beautification efforts such as adding flags and removing overhead power lines as well as larger projects such as moving the 6th Cavalry Museum from an old health department building on Barnhardt Circle to a more visible spot.

After driving down LaFayette Road from Battlefield Parkway to the park, Vickers said he believed it would qualify for the state program, if city officials elected to apply.

"I did see underdevelopment," he said. "This seems to be a good match for the area."

Councilman Louis Hamm said he hoped the incentives could bring in entrepreneurs and lead to growth.

"We need some businesses to come along to spur some of the older businesses," he said. "I think that area can explode."