Northlake CID May Be Too Small to Energize

June 17, 2011 at 10:43 am Leave a comment

Tom Doolittle
“Northlake Station” blog editor, 8-year local writer, tennis coach

 

I’m not promoting a Northlake CID explicitly. Questions abound, but if we should have one, one aspect is worth discussing here: What size does it need to be to work – from recruitment to payoff.

The subject of a possible community improvement district (CID) came up at last week’s Northlake Overlay meeting (reported by Patch’s Ben Schnider, June 8). It has been assumed from the get-go that a CID if formed would be centered on Northlake Mall and would have essentially the same boundaries as the Overlay District. We appear hell-bent on affirming that the “Northlake” name must only be associated with the small area that converges on Lavista Road near the mall and I-285. That’s not a community, it’s a choke point.

A CID is an organization of commercial/institutional property owners that taxes each member to get things done collectively. No room for detail here, but if you’ve been to the area around Perimeter Mall, that’s a CID. The CID paid for the sidewalks, streetscape and lamps but also paid for feasibility studies, planning and reporting that keeps more work in the pipeline. You can multiply the amount of streetscape in Northlake by 20 and that’s just a start of what about 350 owners of high-end property can pay for. The Perimeter CID is up to about $5 million in collections per year, and it claims that every dollar can get matched 25:1 by local, state and federal government. The proof can be seen in the $50 million “fly-over” bridge that was just built over I-285. Do you see the painted highway guard rails near the manicured highway interchange at Ashford-Dunwoody? CID-paid. Need a powerful lobbyist for your area? A CID does that.

Perimeter CID is actually run as two CIDs – one DeKalb, one Fulton. However, their data is kept jointly. The district is about 40 percent larger than the Northlake Overlay (projected Northlake CID area). However, their property is worth at least 10 times that of the Northlake business area. My back-of-the-napkin calculations three years ago showed our overlay zone would generate about $750,000 a year contrasted with the Perimeter CID’s $4 million plus at the time.

Northlake’s lesser $0.75 million should beg reevaluation of our assumed CID area. The amount is enough to clean and secure the place and pay for some studies but a long way from what is needed to get help for roads and bridges. As envisioned, it’s not wrong; it can be the basis of a larger conversation. If you can call it Phase 1 of a more “complete” CID, the whole conversation changes. Of course, there are also many pros and cons to CIDs in general, so all stakeholders, businesses, residents and other partners could raise questions about CIDs in such a conversation too.

The Northlake Community Alliance website (www.nlake.org) says they are working with the fellow who started three CIDs in Gwinnett: Emory Morsberger. However, Morsberger told me he’s been dissuaded by a lack of interest from some major players, most notably Simon Properties. Simon has ignored the CID idea here since at least 2004 when the mall manager at the time peppered them with requests. That hurt because Simon did get involved in Buckhead’s and Town Center’s CIDs.

A developer and visionary, Morsberger is also the guy behind the Brain Train commuter rail plan (http://www.georgiabraintrain.com/) that would come through Northlake and Tucker (more on that another time). Morsberger understands how to shape and size CIDs. He formed them each on different concepts: one, a corridor along US-78; the next, Gwinnett Village (GVCID), which has business centers over a 15 square mile area; and lastly Gwinnett Place, a mall center like the Perimeter CID. In each case, he found a few leaders that paid for a full campaign to recruit the requisite members (51 percent of inventoried property owners). One, Vulcan Materials, a large quarry operation started GVCID. All of these have something which has power that can be overlooked in its influence – a specific jurisdiction that defines the community it serves.

See the GVCID map at: http://www.gwinnettvillage.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=248&Itemid=92

In my view, a CID of this type–or partially of this type–could be the answer to Northlake’s limited revenue base and lack of institutional leadership.

A Northlake CID could include both sides of the railway where only the mall side is included in the overlay – important because of the value of rail for growth. It could extend further south on Northlake Parkway and Montreal Road to Lawrenceville Highway and include the entire medical center and whatever revitalization will be stimulated by the expanded I-285 interchange. (Coincidentally, Georgia Power’s DeKalb economic development office is or was located in the industrial park across the tracks from the overlay boundary.)  The CID could potentially move toward Shallowford Road and merge with the proposed I-85 CID coming up from North Druid Hills Road, Clairmont and Buford Highway.

Conversely, Northlake’s business center(s) could be added (piggy-backed) to other envisioned CIDs, given the lack of commercial property interest in the overlay district. Above all, looking at CID boundaries afresh can surface new corporate and institutional leadership. New enthusiasm from a different business community may pay for property inventories and tax digest studies under the rubric of throwing out old assumptions.

One thing is for sure: By expanding the base, you’ll have to rely less on Simon Properties’ Northlake Mall for leadership. I think all forms of our local stakeholders would find progress faster if we didn’t focus so much attention on the mall and its owners.

Looks like we need another overlay meeting, DeKalb.

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Entry filed under: Business Development, Parks & Greenspace, Pedestrians, Planning, Taxation, Traffic, Trasportation, Urban Design. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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