Ed. Note: The print version of this story stated that a contribution of $125,000 was made by each member. The actual number was $125. We apologize for the error.
MARIETTA — To stimulate interest in revitalizing the Canton Road corridor, a four-mile stretch from the Marietta city limits to Cherokee County, Cobb County Commissioner JoAnn Birrell hosted a reception for property owners and developers at Bay Breeze, one of the restaurants in the area, Thursday night.
Bay Breeze owner Clarice Spica and Don Westbrook of Elon Salon are members of the newly formed Canton Road Redevelopment Foundation Inc., which registered with the Secretary of State in August.
Its purpose, according to chairman Frank Wigington, a local landscaper, is to play middleman in the area’s redevelopment.
“Our sole purpose is to be matchmakers,” said Wigington, who has been the president of the Northeast Cobb Business Association for the past seven years. “We want to hook people up that have property to sell, rent, fix up, rezone or lease with people who want to lease it, buy it or start a business.”
The goal, Birrell said, is to give the area a shot in the arm.
“Canton Road finished road intersection improvements and upgrades that started with Chairman Tim Lee when he was District 3 commissioner,” she said before the reception Thursday. “The transportation component is complete. The next step would be to revitalize the area.”
While stopping short of calling existing buildings eyesores, Birrell said there is a need for fresh construction.
“Some of the blighted areas could be revitalized,” she said. “There are vacant and rundown buildings that we want to revitalize and redevelop.”
Those buildings constitute more than a third of the 38 commercial sites identified by the county in 2011 as ripe for fixing up.
They include Property Masters, newly transformed by owner Judy Young into Downing Tree Service, and La CoSina Latina, a Mexican restaurant also in line for renovation by a new owner.
Existing sites still available are a gas station next to RaceTrac and other sites known as Silk Gardens, The Summit, Club Corners Car Wash, Blackwell Square, Truck n’ Stuff, Jiffy Lube, Sprayberry Crossing, The Corners and Sandy Plains Village.
While not easy on the eyes, the sites have underlying attractions, Birrell said.
“All the sites fall within our rehab zone,” she said. “They are eligible for tax credits and incentives.”
The county can grant an exemption from property taxes on a sliding scale over six years, after which time the business will be assumed to be profitable and able to pay 100 percent of its taxes.
“The property tax incentive is made possible by titling ownership to the taxable assets into the name of the Development Authority (of Cobb County), which in turn leases these assets back to a private entity,” Birrell said in a statement. “The property title reverts to the owner/applicants immediately upon the end of the lease.”
At the event, some of the 85 attendees questioned the foundation’s role, if any, in changing the comprehensive land use plan.
County Planning Director Dana Johnson said that process will be business as usual.
“Any changes to the comprehensive plan are going to have to go through the regular process of alterations. We make alterations to the comprehensive plan once a year,” he said. “They have to come through the commission as a proposal. There’s public notification and all of the regular process that we do for any type of comprehensive plan changes. So, nothing that we’re doing with this effort is going to change the policy on land. The purpose of this is to get people together to help bring new business to the corridor.”
While the foundation, as a nonprofit, may be eligible for grants and revolving loans in future, Wigington said it does not have the funds to be any kind of pass-through agency or provider of startup funds.
“Each member put up some seed money. There were eight of us,” he said. “We put up $125 apiece. We filed for our IRS tax exemption for a 501(c)3, which took most of our money. We will be asking other businesses to help us.”
Those members represent Bay Breeze, Community Bank of the South, Elon Salon, Columbia Properties, Canton Road Neighbors, Blackwell Elementary School, Wigington Landscaping and Arylessence.
Chuck Martin of fragrance maker Arylessence has given another contribution of $1,000, which Wigington said will help get the word out.
“We want to improve this corridor,” he said. “We want to promote this area.”
Birrell said the event already made a start by gathering movers and shakers under one roof.
“We have property owners, developers, shopping center managers, bankers and attorneys here. We want you to talk to each other and network,” she said to the attendees, who also included Development Authority, Keep Cobb Beautiful and neighborhood representatives. “My office is going to be the main point of contact if you’re interested in seeing what incentives or credits are available.”
The foundation will be on the agenda at a District 3 town hall meeting Oct. 17 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Mountain View Community Center, 3400 Sandy Plains Road in Marietta.