In Smyrna, it’s an empty 48-acre tract of land that once was an apartment complex. In Clayton County, it’s a vacant slice of a 155-acre site that was supposed to house a hotel and conference center.
From one end of metro Atlanta to another, there are examples of governments using taxpayer-backed bonds to buy property with the hopes redevelopment will bring new life to these areas and boost tax collections. But in some cases, the developers have yet to come, and the deals aren’t paying off as planned.
Marietta city leaders this fall want to ask voters to approve $68 million in bonds mostly to buy and bulldoze aging apartments to clear the way for future redevelopment in a struggling area. Critics say projects like those in Smyrna and Clayton County are proof the government shouldn’t use taxpayer dollars to gamble on real estate, while city and county officials say there are other ways to measure success than resale value.
“Don’t speculate with taxpayer money. Learn from Smyrna,” said Alex Backry, a longtime Smyrna resident and former mayoral candidate. “Leave it to developers and other people in real estate to do this.”
The projects in Smyrna and Clayton illustrate what can happen when governments or quasi-government entities use taxpayer-backed bonds to purchase property for redevelopment.
Marietta wants voters to approve a 2 mill tax increase — $160 annually for a $200,000 home — mostly to revitalize Franklin Road, a strip that parallels I-75 in Cobb County and is currently occupied by run-down strip malls, 40-year-old apartment complexes and abandoned businesses.