A crowd of about 100 people gathered Thursday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the mixed-use development to soon take over the 48-acre site at the corner of Windy Hill and Atlanta roads.
The property, which has been owned by the Halpern family since 1967, will now see a 274-unit apartment complex, 153 single-family homes and 47,593 square feet of commercial space.
Homes in the development will sell for between $200,000 and $400,000, and the apartments will be available for rent for an undisclosed price. The development is expected to be complete by next summer.
Steve Webb, a spokesman for the project, said Halpern Enterprises, Inc. will not disclose the total cost of the development.
The property surrounds Smyrna Elementary School, which sits on a 9-acre tract the Cobb School District bought from Halpern for $4.3 million in 2011. The school opened in 2013 and has 900 students.
County Chairman Tim Lee was so anxious to see the project begin, he wanted to cut the ceremony short.
“I’m sitting here thinking about this project, and in my mind, we’re wasting time,” Lee said. “We have a gorgeous day and all this equipment, and it’s not doing anything.”
The groundbreaking ceremony comes a few days after the Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to renew a $12.8 million tax break to help with building costs in the form of a tax allocation district, said Jim Pehrson, the county’s finance director.
Halpern was originally granted a TAD for the property in 2003, although commissioners voted to revise it this week since the development was stalled by the recession.
The TAD works by capping revenues from the property owed to the county and city at the 2013 digest level.
Any growth in the digest over the capped amount will go to pay for TAD-eligible redevelopment costs such as grading.
Halpern may spend up to $12.8 million on such costs and will be reimbursed by the TAD revenues. The TAD expires in 25 years or when the $12.8 million number is reached, whichever comes first, Pehrson said.
Lee described Smyrna as an example for the rest of Cobb.
“It is imperative that as we continue to grow we do more of these projects, and I’m glad that Smyrna, once again, is leading the way to making things happen the right way,” Lee said.
Developing a residential and commercial area, similar to a village, around a school is an innovative idea, Lee said.
“It’s going to be successful at creating an environment in the county to keep the thousands of students that go to (Smyrna Elementary School) … in Cobb County. Without this project, they would leave Cobb County,” Lee said. “There are jobs that are going to be created in the next 10 years by people living here that don’t exist today that our students are going to fill in 10 to 20 years. It has to happen.”
Michelle Murphy, co-president of the Smyrna Elementary PTA and a Smyrna resident, said Halpern has already offered support to the school before building began. Murphy said the company donated $10,000 last school year for August 2013 to May 2014, and it donated another $10,000 this month. Of each $10,000 donation, half went to the school and half went to the PTA, Murphy said.
“Halpern has been a huge supporter of our elementary school,” Murphy said. “(Halpern Enterprises) feels we’re a neighbor, and we’re all in this development together.”
The development will include walking paths around the retail stores as well as a pavilion and a pond.
Melleny Pritchett, mayor pro-tem for the Smyrna City Council, said the younger generation in Cobb would flock toward the urban-style community.
“We need this housing,” Pritchett said. “The world has changed, and young people don’t want a house or a yard. They want to go play tennis and go on trips. We need these rooftops.”
Councilman Charles Welch said the new community will cater to younger working couples who can come home from work, change clothes and go out for the night in the commercial area for a meal at a restaurant and later go shopping.
“Those three combined are, in my opinion, a good mix for this area,” Welch said.
Bennett Sands, development director at Wood Partners, which is building the apartments on the property, said the area will be built to mimic the lifestyle of bigger cities.
“We’re going to create a true destination for the millennial generation,” Sands said. “We want to bring the urban lifestyle out to the city of Smyrna by really targeting the pedestrian instead of the automobile.”
Halpern said the new development fills a need for new housing in Smyrna.
“Times changed … traffic patterns changed, retailers came and went and this property was no longer valuable as a retail shopping center,” Halpern said.
The property previously held the Belmont Hills Shopping Center, which was built in 1954. Then, in 1967, Halpern’s father, Bernard, bought the property, which continued its success as a shopping center.
In 2008, Halpern made plans to turn his father’s property into a mixed-use development. When the recession hit in 2009, Halpern’s plans came to a stop, he said.
“It’s been a great exercise in learning patience,” Halpern said. “I’m thankful we had the ability to hold out.”
After waiting out the recession, Clark Hungerford, chairman of the Development Authority of Cobb County, said he’s excited to finally see work begin on the property.
“With the storms (the builders) have had to weather, none of which have been their doing — just the economy, I think we’ll look back and say it was worth it,” Hungerford said.
After the economic challenges, Halpern said he remembers his father’s influence on the property and knows he’s done the right thing with the development.
“I think he’d be very proud,” Halpern said. “He was a genius at picking real estate locations, and while the use of the property is now evolving to a new phase, that would not have been possible without him.”