Lee May: Imagine Memorial Drive as the future center of DeKalb
Imagine a large tract of land nearly 200 acres in area with dilapidated buildings formerly bustling with business activity. Imagine this tract of land is located next to I-285, and only minutes from Spaghetti Junction to the north and I-20 to the south. Imagine this land being directly adjacent to a MARTA rail station.
Some may think I am describing the GM Plant in the city of Doraville. But no …. I am speaking about the Memorial Drive corridor. This area has all the makings of an exciting comprehensive line of development that can and will transform DeKalb County. What am I talking about? I am talking about “Downtown DeKalb”!
DeKalb has two issues in need of a solution.
First, Memorial Drive, an area that has long been in need of capital investment and revitalization. This area has all the characteristics necessary for success with its access to the interstate, accessibility to public transit, and hundreds of acres of publicly owned land. Second, we have hundreds of county-owned buildings, many of which have deep maintenance and repair issues. Many of DeKalb’s government offices are located in downtown Decatur, but others are scattered across DeKalb County. Some are overfilled and some are vacant.
We have 21st century needs and are working in 20th century buildings, and the overhead is money down the drain.
I believe there is a single solution to both issues: Build a new government center along Memorial Drive as the catalyst for development along this area. Developers are already making their presence known and with a collaborative effort with the public and private sector, we will make this happen.
It is my vision that we can turn Memorial Drive into our “Downtown DeKalb,” through tourism, office, commercial and residential development. I believe, once complete, this vision will create and bring new jobs and thousands of new visitors to DeKalb.
Imagine, if you will, a new Memorial Drive full of office buildings beginning to fill the skyline, spotted with restaurants, family friendly destinations, shops and boutiques. Imagine a newly developed area with tourism, hotels, retail, dining, recreation, entertainment and county services conveniently located in close proximity.
We need a government center that is more accessible to the total population. A new government center begins a culture of redevelopment, and can be the catalyst for major development the likes of which this county has not seen in decades in unincorporated DeKalb.
Think about it. In order for DeKalb County to attract large businesses, we have to have something of value to offer – suitable office space, a healthy mix of housing options, retail, a place to live, work and play. All of the elements are either in place or within reach. We just have to put it together.
This vision is about giving attention to a part of the county that has been neglected for decades. Just as we will focus on economic development around Emory University and the CDC, the Memorial Drive Corridor should receive that same focus.
To borrow from the baseball movie “A Field of Dreams,” “If we build it, they will come.” Downtown DeKalb is the dream for our future. We should all work together and act now.
Lee May is the interim Chief Executive Officer of DeKalb County.
Jeff Rader: Moving county offices not a good idea
However well intentioned, Interim CEO Lee May’s proposal to move the county seat from Decatur to Memorial Drive fails to meet the test of economic feasibility, market necessity, and policy priority.
DeKalb should focus on balancing the budget, rebuilding public confidence and improving operational efficiency before trying a big, risky government relocation.
The proposal is not economically feasible. This year, DeKalb is laboring under a $19 million deficit. The administration wants to refinance bond debt and use the savings to close the deficit. How can we afford to build new buildings on Memorial Drive without a tax increase?
The market isn’t there. Private leasable space is in oversupply in the area, and many buildings are vacant. Downtown DeKalb would further undermine the market by vacating existing leases occupied by the Tax Commissioner and Voter Registration.
County business is increasingly conducted electronically, so little related business demand will be generated. Decatur and Avondale are advancing strongly competitive urban projects in the immediate vicinity, using county tax incentives. There’s simply no market momentum at this location.
We have higher priorities. DeKalb faces a whirlwind of difficult challenges. New and annexing municipalities are whittling away at our tax digest and service lines. We seem incapable of correcting the basic flaws in our governance, and are ruled by a series of appointed interim officials. Businesses are fleeing burdensome regulation and our highest-in-the-region millage rates.
We need to focus on fundamentals before we start swinging for the fences.
Jeff Rader represents District 2 on the DeKalb County Commission.