Canton Road is one of the county’s older main thoroughfares in terms of development, and saw an explosion of growth in the 1960s and ’70s as suburban east Cobb boomed. Now, many of those storefronts and strip centers are aging, rundown and/or empty.
Then-Northeast Cobb Commissioner Tim Lee first started laying the groundwork for addressing the blight along that road in the early 2000s, and the effort has gained steam under his successor, JoAnn Birrell.
The first step was to perform various intersection upgrades and improvements, work that is now complete.
The next step came last year when the county fostered the creation of the Canton Road Revitalization Foundation Inc. Its goal is to be a matchmaker between those who have a property to sell, rent, fix up, rezone or lease, on the one hand, and those seeking a property to buy, rent, lease or start a business.
The county also has set up a rehabilitation incentive program that allows qualified businesses that increase the fair-market value of their property by at least 50 percent to receive tax abatements on the additional money they invest in the property.
A survey by county staff in 2011 found 38 commercial sites in the county that needed revitalization, of which 13 were along the 4.5-mile Canton Road corridor.
The trend is heading in the right direction at present, with the number of such properties along Canton now down to 10, and with an additional four soon to be moved off that list, Birrell said last week. The new or upgraded businesses include Home Interiors Defined, Castrol, Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, Wash Barn, a rock-climbing facility and an antique store. All, of course, big improvements over the empty spaces that were there before.
Gary Dennis, co-owner of the car wash, told the MDJ he hopes that as the number and variety of businesses along the road increases, people will see the corridor as more than just a commuter road.
“I think as new businesses come into the area, they’re going to look at it as not only how can I get work or get to the interstate, but how can I meet some of the shopping needs that I have,” Dennis said.
Added Foundation president Frank Wigington, “Even without a full set of teeth in our animal, we still have taken a few pieces of property off of the list, and we’ll be adding a few more back.”
Thanks to the work of Birrell and the Foundation, the Canton Road corridor is in the midst of a long-overdue turnaround. And hopefully, the county can take what has worked there and apply it to some of the other suffering thoroughfares in our community.