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McDonough looks to reform Downtown Development Authority

 

By Alex Welch
Assistant Editor 

  In an effort to revitalize downtown McDonough, city officials are looking to restart the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), a board that has been inactive for more than four years. Mayor Billy Copeland and council members will select the new seven-member board after an application process.

McDonough Square has shops and restaurants surrounding it today, but there are efforts being made to attract more commerce and development to the area.     Photo by Alex Welch

  According to Adam Causey, McDonough’s Business Development Director, the role of the new Board of Directors of the DDA will be to identify opportunities that can be used to revitalize and redevelop the downtown area, with the main goal of developing projects with potential to benefit the city.

  “The DDA is a great institution for creating redevelopment initiatives in your downtown area or however you want to define that; it can be the whole city,” said Causey. “We’re going to form the group, get them up to speed and get them trained, form a boundary that makes sense for the opportunities that are available. I’ll be managing them, but it’s up to them to look at projects or land to purchase or sometimes they’ll get involved in public-private deals.”

  While the DDA does not receive funding from the city, it has several ways of financing projects. The board of directors, which is comprised of seven people, can apply for state grants, loans and revolving loan funds to use for redevelopment. The DDA also has the ability to acquire certain funds that allows it to make loans to developers with lower interest rates than they would receive from a bank. Along with entering into public-private partnerships, Causey said the DDA could receive funding from the hotel-motel tax if a project met guidelines to promote tourism. He also noted that the board could bring viable projects to the city to request capital funds.

  “The goal is to highlight areas of opportunity, to be a partner where it makes sense, and then to really increase wealth in the downtown area long-term,” said Causey. “Around the Square, there are opportunities for properties that may have lived out their useful life to move on to the next phase and bring a business that’s going to attract people or some type of residential development that attracts people.”

  Members eligible for appointment to the DDA must be either taxpayers who live in McDonough or residents of Henry County who operate a business within the downtown area. Causey said anyone can apply, but certain backgrounds in related fields are preferred. He said that because the DDA will be applying for funding and dealing with loans, someone with a familiarity of this field with loans, someone with a familiarity of this field would make a smart fit.

  “It’d be nice to have people who have a history of renovating property or real estate development. A finance background is great,” said Causey.

  Causey said he will be advising the board once it’s up and running. However, there are a few projects he would like to see take place in McDonough.

  “I would like to see more residential closer to the Square. The setting, it’s there for people to come and walk. I want unique businesses that people want to walk to, but the more people you get in closer, it makes it easier,” said Causey. “Unique businesses work really well downtown. I’d like to see more art-type businesses. We’ve got a lot of talent in this community, but I think often there’s not a place for them to show off what they do.”

  Growing trends in social media also help unique businesses succeed today. Causey used smart phones as an example, saying that restaurant goers want to take pictures of where they are and what they eat. He said people aren’t photographing their trip to a chain like Burger King. Mom-and-pop restaurants are better for that type of experience.

  Causey said the DDA is going to work with the Main Street program and with the Historical Preservation Commission to make sure the McDonough Square retains its historical feel. The board will also take trips to other downtown areas in Georgia to examine how those cities operate and similarities they can draw to McDonough.

  Appointing new members to the DDA will replace the former board. While it hasn’t been in operation since 2009, the DDA has still been in existence. The board stopped meeting several years ago, according to councilperson Sandra Vincent, who formerly served as the chair for the DDA board.

  “The DDA ceased to have meetings and to function because in 2009 at a retreat, the mayor and council actually wanted to see an overall restructuring of how we handled downtown. So at the point, we decided we wanted something like an office of downtown development with departments that come under that area, and then collaborations with tourism and merchants association,” said Vincent. “It was pretty much the consensus of mayor and council to step back and try to bring all these pieces together.”

  Vincent said now that the city has the proper departments set up with experts like Causey, the pieces are in place for the DDA to operate and assist McDonough with the “science of downtown development.”

  “I’m excited because we’ve grown and evolved, and the timing is just perfect. We’ve got a great energy on the square and people who are making investments,” said Vincent. “The DDA deals primarily with nuts and bolts of development itself.”

  One director on the DDA board may be either the mayor or a council member. Vincent expressed interest in maintaining a position. Her ideas for the future of McDonough include adding businesses and new ventures to build up the downtown district, but also to bring in residential development.

  “The perfect mix for downtown is your commercial and housing developments. There’s a need for nightlife downtown, maybe a dinner theater. We’re looking at the possibility of a museum downtown,” said Vincent. “These are really the things DDAs do. They have access to resources that the city does not have.”

  Paul Gaffney, owner of PJ’s, thinks the city needs to focus on creating a place where consumers will want to spend money. He said once one major restaurant opens, more will want to come to the area.

  “We need more shops, more restaurants, bars. Make it a destination area for coming out to eat. You’ve got to make it some kind of destination, or nobody’s going to come,” said Gaffney.

  Applications are for the DDA are available on the city’s website. For more information, contact Causey at acausey@mcdonough-ga.gov.

 

 

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