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Bill could benefit city

Changes in the works for downtown

POSTED: February 13, 2013 4:00 a.m.
David Renner Dawson Community News/

A refurbished race car sits outside of the historic courthouse in Dawsonville. Plans are currently underway in hopes of revitalizing downtown Dawsonville.

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Dawsonville's downtown may get an added boost to its revitalization efforts in the coming months.

A measure recently introduced at the state legislature, House Bill 128, is being billed as Georgia's downtown renaissance act. It would allow a three-tiered system to aid with refurbishing and renovating small, downtown areas.

"Our downtown area is the heart of our county. It's the pulse of the economy when you get right down to it. Everything started downtown and from there it all moved outward," said Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan.

"What I see is an exodus back to the small cities. People like that atmosphere and want to be around it. That's the reason we're looking to do what we're doing by improving the area."

In recent months, the Dawsonville Downtown Development Authority formed a steering committee to create a municipal revitalization plan.

City Councilman Chris Gaines, who sits on the committee, said he is excited about the bill's potential.

"It's awesome," Gaines said. "It would be another tool that we would have that will allow us to encourage business growth downtown."

Under the proposed legislation, a city could designate an area as a renaissance district for restoration.

"The renaissance act that's in legislation right now is something that we feel like would benefit us because it's benefitted other communities - not necessarily this particular act - but a joint partnership between public and private money to get tax credits from doing those projects in downtown areas," Grogan said.

According to the mayor, the bill would represent a partnership between the state and businesses that includes tax incentives.

The first tier would be $20 million a year in state tax incentives ranging from 10-25 percent for investments, new construction or renovations of existing property.

The second tier would be $5 million a year in statewide incentives that included a 5 percent incentive for purchases or a 15 percent incentive for significant improvements of renaissance districts.

The third tier would be $5 million per year in statewide incentives for individual or corporate contributions to the renaissance fund.

Georgia has two existing programs - the Georgia Cities Foundation and Georgia Department of Community Affairs - that offer low-interest loans to help revitalize downtown areas.

"Part of this House Bill 128 will go to fund these programs," Gaines said. "They're basically out of money at this point. They are in high demand."

The Dawsonville City Council passed a similar policy in November, which offers immediate funding to downtown businesses wishing to make small upgrades, such as a new awning. The city has the ability to directly loan money at no interest for a 12-month period.

"[HB 128] will provide tax credits at a state level," Gaines said. "We don't have a city tax, so we don't have the ability to lower tax below zero. This bill will help encourage money to flow through downtown in a development and revitalization standpoint."

According to Gaines, the local steering committee was planning to renovate the downtown area before the House bill surfaced.

"I think it's perfect timing. I've pushed for this since I was chairman of the development authority two years ago, to get downtown revitalized," Gaines said. "Everybody you talk to wants to see a vibrant downtown. And for us to be just ahead of the curve for what they're doing with this renaissance program is great. I think it's phenomenal that we're right on target."

The committee, made up of downtown stakeholders from the business community, is developing a plan, setting goals and laying a foundation in anticipation of inviting land and property owners to get behind the effort.

A survey has also been distributed to gauge the community's interest.

"We've had great response with the steering committee plans. The number of surveys we've had have been good and we had a meeting the other day," Gaines said. "I think it turned out great. Visually seeing what the potential is, [that's] bigger than just talking about it. We're making great progress."

Grogan said he was happy with the results so far, but admits a lot of planning remains.

"We've got the Carl Vincent Institute working on the surveys. They came this past week and gave us a preliminary presentation that had some good information in it," he said. "We'll be analyzing those surveys and coming back with some proposals that they think we should do with the downtown area based on the data.

"At that point, we have to decide where the money will come from and if we're going to be able to do what they proposed."

Dawsonville residents are also getting involved by sharing ways to help improve downtown and lure additional tourism.

"Dawsonville's only known for two things - moonshine and racing. It seems like it's accepted now more than in the past," said Gordon Pirkle, president of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

He has suggested renaming some of the numbered streets in Dawsonville to reflect the city's unique heritage and honor racing greats such as Raymond Parks, Bernard Long, Ted Chester, Gober Sosebee, Bill Elliott, Harry Melling, Roy Hall and Lloyd Seay.

According to Pirkle, that list includes five men who won at Daytona's famed tracks, as well as the three NASCAR champions from "this tiny town of racing."

"Naming the streets will bring attention to Dawsonville. The committee from the University of Georgia really liked this idea," he said.

Pirkle believes focusing on the town's history is vital in making plans to revitalize the downtown area.
"Some people thought changes were bad at the start, like when we wanted to rename the Fall Festival to the Moonshine Festival. We need things that we can market, even if it means changing something's name," he said.

He's also proposed selling advertisements on old race cars. The vehicles would then be parked in front of businesses and rotated as new spaces were purchased.

 

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