Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / An oil spill discovered on Maple Street in front of the abandoned Coats American building in Rossville, Ga., contained Polychlorinated biphenyls, a chemical linked to many health risks, including cancer. Police suspect copper thieves caused the spill.

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Rossville redevelopment

Members of Georgia Tech's Center for Economic Development and Research held a "takeoff meeting" with Rossville stakeholders on Feb. 11, announcing they will study the city for the next three months.

The main goal? Review previous studies done for the city and tell officials how to use them.

"We'll help put together priority items that Rossville needs to accomplish to spur redevelopment, to spur growth economically and tackle some of their bigger challenges," said Leigh Hopkins, the group's project director.

With a poverty rate of 30 percent and an average median income of $17,000 a year, Rossville has received plenty of suggestions from city planners and consultants. About a decade ago, the city received a report from Arcadis about how to best improve the old Rossville Woolen Mills and its immediate surrounding areas, said Elizabeth Wells, co-founder of the Rossville Redevelopment Workshop.

Since 2017, the University of Georgia and the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission have also released detailed reports of how to redevelop the city. But, Wells said, the Georgia Tech team is more thorough. They will take ideas from the other reports and rank them in order of priority.

The plan will include phases, as well as how to fund each phase. It will tell elected officials what grants to apply for, as well as how to recruit businesses. In particular, the report will instruct the city on how to use the opportunity zone designated, granted by the federal government to offer tax breaks to developers who invest in Rossville.

The report "goes into the macro level, then zooms into the micro," said Wells, a contractor with the city. "'Here's what's feasible. Here's what you can do.'"

With funding from the Georgia Economic Development Authority, Georgia Tech is contributing $15,000 to the project and the city is kicking in another $10,000. The researchers picked Rossville out of four applicants for the partnership, which began in November.

City officials hope the stage is set for more development. In addition to the opportunity zone designation, the city council adopted a downtown overlay last summer. This gave the downtown region strict codes to follow, something that officials had not reviewed in at least 30 years, some veteran members of the council said.

In July 2017, developers bought the 1.2-million-square-foot Peerless Woolen Mills, though they still have not taken any significant steps toward changing the way the property is used. Around the corner from the mill, the county government is trying to sell the 350,000-square foot Coats American plant.

The county issued a request for proposals last year and received two bids. But days before the county's development authority planned to unveil those bids, a group of vandals allegedly tipped over transformers while they tried to steal copper. Liquids with potentially toxic chemicals spilled out and leaked into a drainage ditch, setting off a cleanup effort overseen by the federal government. The cleanup is still not done 11 months later. (The vandals later pleaded guilty in Walker County Superior Court.)

In addition to city officials, Georgia Tech's team of four researchers will interview residents, county officials, the heads of state agencies and regional economic development officials.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.