The Dunwoody Development Authority is known mostly for offering tax incentives to major developments such as State Farm. But now the authority is determining if its mission should expand to include restaurants and the hospitality industry.
The DDA held its first-ever retreat March 29 at the Donaldson-Bannister Farm with Mayor Denis Shortal and Councilmembers Jim Riticher and Lynn Deutsch attending along with members of other boards such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
No decisions were made as the DDA wanted to discuss ideas that will likely be discussed more in depth over the next three to six months.
Major discussion centered around the basic question the DDA is considering – should the authority remain reactive or become more proactive in trying to shape redevelopment in the city?
“A number of members have been on the authority since the beginning and were asking, ‘What do other authorities do?’” said Dunwoody Economic Development Director Michael Starling, who also is the executive director of the DDA.
A major impetus for the DDA to take a close look at its goals is the high demand by residents for more chef-driven, high-quality restaurants, Starling said.
Currently, Starling or a developer approaches the DDA for it to consider providing incentives. While the DDA is a separate entity from the mayor and City Council, it does want to ensure the projects it agrees to provide tax abatements to are in keeping with what the council wants as well.
Major questions the authority will be dealing with after the retreat include what role it plays in redevelopment and the potential for the city and the authority to work more closely together, Starling said.
For example, the DDA sticks to providing tax incentives to major developments such as State Farm and a new 16-story office building slated to be built across the street from State Farm, but does not currently provide tax incentives to retail, restaurants or the hospitality industry.
These kinds of businesses, however, provide the city with significant economic development, Starling said, and the possibility of the DDA offering such incentives to help “lead the charge” in attracting higher-end stores, hotels and restaurants is one idea to shape what is built in the city.
At the retreat, Starling mentioned that if the DDA had the resources, for example, it could have purchased the Chevron station on Chamblee-Dunwoody Road to ensure the type of development it wants to create around Dunwoody Village. The site was recently sold to a developer who plans to keep the gas station, eliminate the auto repair shop and add a convenience store.
Redevelopment in the city is occurring through what the free market will allow and demands, Starling said. But on smaller sites, such as the Chevron site, the DDA could buy the property to ensure, for example, a restaurant is built there by selling it at below market value.
But buying and selling property is an issue the City Council will also have to deal with, he added.
In an interview, Starling explained there is a continuum of redevelopment activity that takes place – on one side is to let the market take care of what happens and on the other end is what the city did with Project Renaissance.
Project Renaissance involved the city in 2011 purchasing 35 acres in the Georgetown community for nearly $12 million and then selling a major portion to John Wieland Homes to build single-family homes and a park. A 2.5-acre commercial site was recently sold to a developer that plans to bring in restaurants to the area.
“I think we need to decide where on that continuum we want to be,” Starling said. But the city is not likely to undertake another Project Renaissance-size project, he added.
Another topic of interest is the incentives the DDA provides to developers. Surrounding cities and DeKalb County all have development authorities that offer incentives to developers to build in their cities. These incentives include tax breaks on city and county property taxes and school taxes over a certain period.
In 2016, the DDA approved $34 million in tax breaks to State Farm for the two new buildings now going up in Perimeter Center across from the Dunwoody MARTA station. In exchange for the tax breaks over nearly 20 years, State Farm is making $50 million in infrastructure improvements and streetscape improvements as well as promising to bring some 2,200 jobs to the area.
But if the city does not provide tax incentives, then the developer can go to Decide DeKalb, the county’s development authority, leaving the city out of any type of local control of the project.