On Tuesday, October 7, 2014, over two hundred individuals attended the Cobb Redevelopment Forum, co-hosted by the Council for Quality Growth, Cobb’s Competitive EDGE and Revitalize Marietta. A distinguished collection of representatives from development organizations met at Kennesaw State University for three panel discussions regarding Cobb County’s accomplishments and future endeavors. All those in attendance were also provided the opportunity to hear remarks from Keynote Speaker and Former Mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Baker.
The first panel consisted of Kennesaw State University Provost Dr. Ken Harmon, Jeff Fuqua of Fuqua Development; Mason Zimmerman of Pope & Land Enterprises & Chairman of Town Center Area CID; and Al Martin of the Cobb Sports Alliance. This discussion centered on the Kennesaw State University (KSU) and Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) consolidation, the Town Center CID development projects, the LakePoint Sporting Community and the Managed Lanes Project. January 2015 will mark the official date of the consolidation between KSU and SPSU, and all systems should be fully integrated over the summer.
Unlike many other counties, Cobb has always been very friendly to retailers and has mature, effective leadership that also puts a huge emphasis on redevelopment. Jeff Fuqua emphasized the point that it is necessary to form a positive relationship between the public and private sectors. Mason Zimmerman also explained that the Town Center Area CID finds itself acting as a facilitator, a proactive force and a reactor to changes in the area, given that they are looking to redevelop a 30-year old submarket (Town Center Area). CIDs are always looking for solutions to improve traffic and infrastructure.
Al Martin, of the Cobb Sports Alliance, described how the 1,300 acre LakePoint Sporting Community has the potential to have as great of an economic impact in Cobb County as the Braves. This is primarily due to the fact that tourism is the biggest industry in Cobb, and sports tourism is a major subcomponent. The vision has grown to now include about twenty sports as a premier tournament destination at LakePoint. The projections are that over four million visitors a year will be drawn to the area surrounding LakePoint; as LakePoint is just across the Cobb County line in Bartow County, this means that it will have a significant economic impact in Cobb County.
Mason Zimmerman, Senior Vice President of Pope and Land and Chairman of the Town Center Area CID described how traffic is an issue and a growing concern for KSU students and daily commuters. The new Managed Lanes Project is one creative solution, but is not a silver bullet for the growing traffic problem. Since traffic is an issue, he expressed how developers need to be cognizant on the best practices to manage the concern. The proposed project consists of the addition of two reversible express lanes located within the median of I-75.
The second panel discussed the Gateway Marietta CID, Cumberland CID and the Atlanta Braves Project. The panel consisted of David Demarest & Ethan Milley of Jones Lang LaSalle; Beth Sessoms of the City of Marietta; and Cumberland CID Chairman Tad Leithead. Marietta Economic Development Manager Beth Sessoms described how she has worked to create the Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) program for Cobb Parkway. The program includes streetscape and trail projects to major infrastructure improvements such as the Woodlands Park project. She commends the citizens of Marietta for the $68 million redevelopment bond. The Cumberland CID Chairman Tad Leithead gave his explanation of why the Atlanta Braves chose Cobb County. He said, “The Atlanta Braves did not come to Cobb County because the Cumberland CID said they would make transportation improvements; the Atlanta Braves came because the Cumberland CID and all of their partners (Cobb Co., GDOT, etc.) had already made infrastructure improvements.” This fact made it easy for the Braves to believe access to the stadium would be superior to what they currently have at Turner Field.
Similar to the other panels, the third panel talked about development in South Cobb and the Six Flags area. The panelists were Don Geiger, of Courtyard Atlanta Cumberland Center; Governor Roy Barnes; and South Cobb Redevelopment Authority Chairman Ed Richardson. Don Geiger has worked for Marriott International for twenty-seven years and fielded many questions regarding tourism. One of the questions asked was: when is Marriott coming to South Cobb? He simply responded that “Hotel supply follows demand.” Demand is growing rapidly in Cobb County, especially with the KSU/SPSU consolidation and the addition of LakePoint Sports Community and the new Atlanta Braves stadium. Hotels in the area are doing exceptionally well. However, before a Marriott does open, a feasibility study based on hotel room nights will be conducted to ensure the demand is there and will be maintained.
Governor Roy Barnes expressed how the city of Mableton is a diamond in the rough. Land is available to develop in South Cobb, while available land is more scarce in other parts of Cobb County since many residents do not want more growth. He said, “Think of South Cobb as the new Smyrna.” South Cobb Redevelopment Authority member Ed Richardson has a vision for South Cobb and Six Flags. Part of the vision is ‘rebranding’ South Cobb. It begins with changing the name Six Flags Drive to Riverside Parkway. Transforming South Cobb into a viable location for new and old residents is the goal and vision many hold.
The Keynote Speaker, Former Mayor of St. Petersburg Rick Baker, expressed his thoughts on quality of life for neighborhoods. He acknowledged job creation is done by the private sector, not the government. Government should improve the quality of life; it is the city’s strategic vision that will improve the value. Having a commitment to improve sidewalk appearance, building design and business development is the infrastructure to a healthy, vibrant city. St. Petersburg was named the first green city, and was able to transform the economically blighted “Midtown” area of St. Petersburg into a thriving arts district. Fixing attitudinal issues within city government and citizens generally led to economic expansion through the pride and attention one has for their community.
Notable attendees who participated in the Rebuilding Cobb’s Future discussion were Cobb County Commissioner Tim Lee, Heath Garrett, Cobb Chamber Chairman Ben Mathis and Dr. Bryan Crute.