The Renaissance of Franklin Road
By Tal Wright, Thursday, November 15
During a few recent weekends, Sunday morning repaving work on I-75 North forced traffic off the interstate at Delk Road in Cobb County, guiding northbound drivers to Franklin Road, which parallels the interstate and leads to North Marietta Parkway, where travelers can get back on I-75.
And those drivers who previously may have avoided Franklin for its poor reputation, but took the detour onto Delk, may have wondered if they were actually on Franklin Road.
In the mid-1970s and 80s, this 1.2 mile-portion of Franklin Road was lined with 14 Class A apartment complexes, which featured stylish contemporary clubhouses, pools, tennis courts and weight rooms, and housed Generation X-ers, who partied the nights away – until they grew up – and moved to the burbs.
But by 1990, these complexes had fallen into disrepair and become havens for crime, including human and drug trafficking. Many of the companies that owned them declared bankruptcy. What was once a new and hip spot to live, and perhaps grow up a bit – and Class A-rated – rapidly declined into D- and F-rated real estate.
Over those years, seventy-four percent of all 911 calls in Cobb County and Marietta came from a 1.2-mile section of Franklin Road. The United States Department of Justice identified Franklin Road as a critical need area. The decline was so bad that one enterprising business tenant offered to renew its lease if the lessor would include a “bullet hole clause” that would allow the lessor to terminate the lease if a new bullet hole showed up on his property.
Property owners lost at least one million square feet of leased space due to the Great Recession, and the area’s unabated crime, which pushed many of the properties into bankruptcy, magnifying the corridor’s problems, including loss of business and residential tenants. The corridor hit bottom, and community and City leaders knew something needed to be done.
Marietta natives Heath Garrett and Mitch Hunter, who served as occasional advisers to local leaders, worked with them to form a non-profit political advocacy organization, Revitalize Marietta. Their challenge was huge, but both brought political connections and campaign experience to the task. Garrett is former chief of staff to U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, and Hunter served as chief of staff to U.S. Congressman Phil Gingrey. They assisted Revitalize Marietta in advocating for passage of a General Obligation Bond for urban redevelopment. A portion of the funds raised by the Bond would fund the city’s purchase of the crime-ridden apartment complexes on Franklin Road.
In 2013, a $68 million redevelopment bond, of which $64 million was dedicated to the revitalization of the Franklin Road Corridor, was approved by Marietta Steve Tumlin, City Council and voters. Its highest support came from residents of the Franklin Road corridor.
Four apartment complexes were ultimately purchased by the City and removed. And the Marietta Housing Authority worked with displaced residents to find other housing, including single family homes in stable neighborhoods. A commercial property also was purchased but has not been redeveloped. U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson assisted the CID and the City with obtaining a U.S. Department of Justice Weed and Seed Grant for law enforcement and community revitalization.
Over time, crime dropped as much as 40 percent. Police incidents decreased from 1,485 in 2013, the year of the bond approval, to 904 in 2017.
In 2014, the Gateway Marietta CID (Community Improvement District) was formed to work with property owners, the City of Marietta, and the Marietta Police Department to improve public safety and infrastructure. (Franklin Road was recently renamed Franklin Gateway.) The CID currently includes 68 commercial properties within its boundaries, and will collect an estimated $363,000 in 2018 taxes, which will fund additional improvements.
To be sure, the Franklin Gateway CID is modest compared to the nearby Cumberland and Town Center CIDs, which enjoy higher tax collections from the Class-A office and retail investors within their boundaries.
Yet, Franklin Gateway is a scrappy, pull-yourself-up, small-town-Georgia version of a community transformation. And for those who traveled Franklin Road before the CID was established and began investing in a major facelift – it is largely unrecognizable. The Franklin Gateway Streetscapes, including sidewalks, vintage pole-mounted streetlighting and traffic lights, installed at a cost of $11.35 million, currently extend from South Marietta Parkway south to Atlanta United’s headquarters and training facility. The remaining section to Delk Road has been resurfaced but not fully streetscaped.
“The City of Marietta development bond supported our recruitment of Atlanta United’s $60 million training complex, IKEA and Drive Shack, a golf entertainment destination,” explained Daniel Cummings, Economic Development Manager for the City of Marietta.
Other businesses followed, including Administrative offices for WellStar, a Home Depot Technology Center, and a new Hampton Inn. Most recently, Cumberland-based Ardent Companies purchased nine office buildings in the CID as part of a $41 million deal. Success leads organizations to ask themselves, “how do we continue to build on our successes?”
Their answer is the appointment of Caroline Whaley, who was named Executive Director of the Gateway Marietta CID in May. She brings a master’s degree, including a thesis in economic development, experience as a business recruiter at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and experience providing consulting services to CIDs.
“Infrastructure improvements, beautification, and safety and security are the three pillars of CID improvements,” she explains. “Cities and counties have realized that CIDs can revitalize and transform communities.”
In her new role as executive director, Whaley is working with City leaders to enhance and expand the Gateway Marietta CID’s footprint, including adding new parcels, security cameras, and landscaping on Delk Road and South Marietta Parkway.
She will also work with State and local economic development leaders, including Cobb’s Michael Hughes, and Marietta’s Daniel Cummings, to help build on their success.