It’s been a long time coming, but hopefully worth the wait.
The 296-unit complex is now empty after years of contributing heavily to the city’s crime statistics, but continues as a high-profile blight on what should be a prime 19-acre piece of property next to the Marietta/Hilton Conference Center.
That could be about to change. It was learned on Friday that San Diego-based Black Orchid Equity purchased the site out of foreclosure on Sept. 6 for $1.9 million. It plans to tear down the garden apartments and replace with them with upscale single-family homes and town homes.
“At that price, that affords us the ability to do a really quality product,” said Blake Thompson, owner of Black Orchid. “The mayor and I have talked about a plan to tear them down and build single-family and town homes all on the golf course and create a new upscale community.”
That indeed would be a welcome development.
The best part of the deal is that it would come at relatively little cost to local taxpayers. That’s a welcome change from earlier. Atlanta developer The Pacific Group nearly a decade ago signed a contract to buy Wynhaven for $13 million. A key part of that deal was the approval by the Marietta City Council of a $6.2 million Tax Allocation District subsidy.
Tax Allocation District financing allows property taxes generated by a development in a specified area to be frozen and used not to pay for police, fire, schools and other city services, but rather to pay off the bonds issued by the city used to finance the project. While there was and is no question that Wynhaven meets the definition of “blight” (which was needed to qualify for TAD money), the bigger question back then was whether the city was throwing away money on overpriced land. Critics also suggested that the TAD would use public dollars to reward a property owner who had let his development deteriorate.
The Pacific deal eventually fell through in the wake of a series of lawsuits.
The Black Orchid deal looks much more promising.
First off, it underlines the impression that Pacific was indeed overpaying, with help from the taxpayers.
On the other hand, the low price Orchid is paying means it has more left over to spend on the development ahead. Thompson told the MDJ it is looking at homes in the $400,000-plus range and town homes priced at $200,000-plus.
Quality and density — two items too often historically underemphasized by zoning boards in Marietta and Cobb — will be keys as the project moves forward.
City Hall did little during the 1970s and ‘80s as the Powder Springs corridor began to deteriorate. Construction of the $26 million conference center/hotel in 1996 was supposed to reverse the trend, but didn’t. The closure of the Johnny Walker Homes public housing project in the early 2000s helped, but perhaps it took Wynhaven — the biggest and one of the most problematic parts of the redevelopment puzzle — hitting rock bottom for the corridor to finally reach a turning point.