Trend Radar: March 2008

Accelerating Improvements: Congestion along the Georgia 400 corridor, which links Atlanta to its northern suburbs, has long been a headache for commuters. But gridlock there has also been a hindrance to growth, especially that of the more than 4,000 businesses inside the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts (PCIDs) around Sandy Springs and northern DeKalb County. The PCIDs are composed of self-taxing businesses that use their revenues for beautification and infrastructure improvements, and they have a reputation for doing it much faster than government. In fact, the Perimeter CIDs may have set some kind of fast-forward record for getting a long-sought traffic relief project on the road to completion.

In just the last six months of 2007, the Perimeter CIDs took an idea and turned it into a $5 million up-front pledge to create a half-diamond on-and-off ramp at Georgia 400 and to redesign and replace Hammond Bridge, setting the stage for bringing that project to reality five years ahead of schedule. The half-diamond and bridge replacement traffic relief improvements are part of the planned Georgia 400 Collector/Distributor System that promises to provide motorists with more choices in entering or leaving the busy road.

“This is something the property owners and development community have been trying to get built for 20-something years,” says PCIDs’ board chairman Bob Voyles (rhymes with foils). “The reason this project has been delayed as long as it has was we were stuck in a perpetual study mode for improvements along Georgia 400.”

The PCIDs’ pledge of $5 million toward the completion of the estimated $25 million-plus project brought together the city of Sandy Springs, its development authority, the Georgia DOT and the Federal Highway Authority; and the unique partnership got the green light. “This opportunity to reduce congestion in that corridor is enormous,” Voyles says. No start date has been given, but an important first step has been taken.

Bowdon Revival: When Carroll County veterinarian Matt McCord went scouting for a new building back in 2006 to house his growing clinic, he got more than he bargained for. Not many vets need five buildings totaling 100,000 square feet of space on 7.8 acres, but when McCord walked around the remains of an old textile mill and grocery warehouse in downtown Bowdon it was love at first sight.

“It was just one of those things that happens,” he says. “I saw the beauty in the buildings; there is a lot of great architecture here. I bought them kind of on a lark.”

In addition to his new 10,000-square-foot clinic in the rehabbed 1880 warehouse, McCord is reshaping downtown Bowdon (population: 2,000). Using a conventional bank loan, he financed improvements on his buildings that have attracted new businesses to an area ravaged by time and neglect. “The buildings had been vacant about 11 years,” he says. “They were in disrepair – I think it’s called urban blight.”

For Bowdon Mayor Jim Watts, McCord has ridden into town in shining armor on a white horse. “He’s taken the initiative to make a better Bowdon,” Watts says. “It was all done with private money.” The mayor remembers when the textile mills were going full bore and bringing workers and shoppers to his downtown. “There was a time when the daytime population here was 6,000,” he says.

Some needed rehab work is so expensive it will require government assistance, says Watts, who has rallied to McCord’s side to seek funding for road improvements along the old mill site and to help with further beautification projects. McCord, the veterinarian/developer, came to Bowdon from the countryside needing more space and city utilities. Of the 10 new business sites he has so far carved out of the old buildings, only one vacancy remains.

New Look: The Golden Isles’ SeaPak Shrimp Company is celebrating its 60th anniversary this month by adding a familiar coastal landmark to its packaging. From now on, the St. Simons Island lighthouse will be featured as part of the company’s brand. In addition, SeaPak is adding three new products to its menu this year. The company recently received a number of national awards for the tastiness of its delicacies.

SeaPak was born in 1948 when Sea Island Packing Company’s founders purchased a decommissioned naval base on the island and installed a storage freezer there. The company was attracted to the area by then abundant shrimp in the Golden Isles marshes and offshore waters. The company became SeaPak in 1976 and is currently ranked first in the nation in the sales of value added shrimp.

Generous Giving: Georgians donated $295 million to charity in 2006, according to a recent report from the Giving USA Foundation.

Categories: Economic Development Features, Features