DDA Executive Director Ann Arnold told members of the 2011 Board of Directors and four of the five new board members who will start work in January that she will recommend the DDA employ the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute to consult with the DDA in Rome to develop that strategic plan during 2012.
“I don’t know where the money is going to come from (to pay for the consultant),” Arnold said. She stressed that leaders at the Fanning Institute have indicated a desire to work with the city.
Assistant Rome City Manager Sammy Rich said he has not had any discussion with city commissioners about funding a consultant for the long-range plan. “Is it a good idea, is it a good investment? I think the answer is absolutely,” Rich said. “Looking back, where we have planned, it seems that we typically do a better job.”
The Fanning Institute has recently published a report titled “Cities & Downtowns: Building Blocks to Recovery.” According to Bivins, the report lists four issues that make up the blueprint for a comprehensive strategy to support ongoing downtown development efforts.
The framework is based on:
During a presentation to the Rome Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors last week, Bivins said that when he spoke around the state seven years ago, everyone was interested in emulating Madison, Georgia. “For the last three years or so it has been Rome, Rome, Rome, Rome,” Bivins said. “I commend you on that.”
Bivins showed the downtown developers a short video produced by the Fanning Institute that stressed that successful downtown development does not happen on its own but is the result of planning. That was a point made during the October planning retreat by Rome real estate agent Bill Temple, who has agreed to be part of a panel that will assist in the development of a strategic plan.
Rich said the opportunity to focus efforts is important to taking downtown Rome to the next level. “Having milestones to meet, progress that we can check off, to me that’s definitely a worth endeavor,” Rich said.
Outgoing DDA Chairwoman Elaine Abercrombie says that one of the most significant developments she’s seen in the last couple of years is that the state is recognizing that downtowns are economic drivers in cities across the state.
Bivins backed that up by pointing to the fact that 60 percent of all jobs in Georgia are in cities and most of those are in downtown areas.
In Rome, through the month of November, the downtown district saw a net increase of 126 jobs during 2011. “Who else in Rome has created 126 jobs?” asked Abercrombie.
Through November, the downtown business district has added 15 new businesses while six have closed during the first 11 months of the year.
Arnold’s monthly report that is sent to state economic developers indicates downtown has attracted $1.06 million in new public and private investments in 2011.
“To be in a recession, there’s an awful lot going on in downtown Rome right now,” said Harry Brock, one of the five members of the DDA board that will be leaving the panel at the end of the year.
As 2011 winds down, work on the Seven Hills Fellowship building, formerly the White Rabbit, is progressing toward completion. Renovation of the old Clyde Collier Photography studio at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Broad Street. is also nearing completion.
Ira Levy has acquired the former Atlanta Gas Light, J.L. Todd Building and is making renovations to house yet another expansion of Source Therapy Billing. Blue Sky Outfitters hopes to have its second Rome location open in the Cotton Block in January.
One of the questions that a new strategic plan may answer is whether or not “downtown” will formally jump the Oostanaula River. Arnold recently was able to redefine the downtown district by striking some of the South Broad Street corridor across the Etowah River.
Arnold said efforts in that part of town are being directed by the South Rome Redevelopment Agency and the downtown group did not need to duplicate efforts of the South Rome agency.
Arnold said her office is uniquely capable of doing the legwork critical to continuing the growth of downtown Rome. When some landlords are looking to lease or sell a building, they’re not always looking at the best fit for the property. “I’ve got to look at the big picture,” Arnold said. It’s not just about putting this restaurant on that corner with no back door or delivery space.”
Jefferson’s was a perfect example of the work the DDA staff does on a daily basis. Arnold was able to negotiate a dumpster with the Floyd County government that was located in an alley type of location between Jefferson’s and the county administrative building. Otherwise, there was no place for the restaurant to put its daily waste stream.
A downtown hop across the Oostanaula River in 2012 seems likely for a number of reasons.
The city is expected to award a contract for redevelopment along West Third Street sometime before the end of this month. Development of a hotel on West Third Street, across from Barron Stadium has long been a priority for city officials who say the ability to put a full-service hotel within walking distance of The Forum will only enhance The Forum’s ability to host more convention and conference type of events.
The city of Rome is expected to put a major urban riverfront project out for bid sometime in the first quarter of 2012. That project will bring a permanent dock for the Roman Holiday tour boat to the area adjacent to The Forum and complete the river walk on the east, or south side of the Oostanaula.
“To me, the urban riverfront is going to be the greater extension of Rome’s amenities,” Rich said. “While you’re here, that may be something that brings you back.”
Bids for the urban riverfront project are to be opened January 12 at 4 p.m.
Looking to the future, one of Arnold’s priorities is the recruitment of a general merchandiser to the Broad Street community. “A place where people can get the daily things they need, toothpaste or a loaf of bread, the paper towels, the stuff you need from day to day whether you’re in a house or a business, the type of things you need from day to day,” Arnold said.
Three more restaurateurs are looking at sites on Broad Street for new shops. Can Rome support three more eateries downtown? “The market will tell us, that’s the bottom line, “ Arnold said. “It always corrects itself.”
Arnold is looking to the day that Broad Street has a 100-percent occupancy rate on street level. A drive-by analysis last week indicated at least 17 vacancies on Broad Street.
Several of those are in buildings that are currently under renovation, and behind-the-scenes negotiations are already under way on a number of those openings.