The West Rome community has been the focus of considerable attention in local politics recently. Much of that is because West Rome’s Ward Three on the Rome City Commission is being contested this fall.
The attention is focused on economic growth, litter and the ongoing need for affordable housing across the community.
City Manager Sammy Rich said there is a lot of opportunity for redevelopment in West Rome.
West Rome experienced explosive growth six decades ago — General Electric, Georgia Kraft, now International Paper and Georgia Power’s Plant Hammond. General Electric went away two decades ago and Plant Hammond was shut down earlier this year. Two-thirds of the reason that led to the boom in West Rome are gone.
You can add in Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital, Trend Mills and Integrated Products.
Don’t look for anything to replace the General Electric plant because of issues related to those polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs. Similarly, don’t look for anything to replace Plant Hammond, except perhaps for a large solar farm that might be developed on the site. However, a solar farm won’t bring a lot of jobs.
“No community has lost the jobs West Rome has lost,” said Craig McDaniel, a commercial real estate specialist at Toles, Temple & Wright Real Estate.
That leaves International Paper. The company has invested, and continues to invest, what is expected to be close to $300 million to upgrade technology at the plant. They make linerboard, the stuff that is used in shipping boxes. It’s an industry that is continuing to grow thanks to burgeoning internet sales.
When the West Rome Big Three opened in the ’50s, Garden Lakes developed as one of the largest planned subdivisions in the entire state. Smaller subdivisions like Chieftain Hills, Fair Oaks, Westwood and Cherokee Acres also popped up shortly thereafter.
West Rome was literally a boom town at the time.
The population density in West Rome is a factor that ought to be conducive to growth, Rich said.
“Rooftops. When we talk about any kind of opportunities, whether a retail business or a major employer, that common ingredient you need is people. They are both employees and customers,” Rich said.
The West Rome area, specifically the Alabama Highway corridor, got good news earlier this year when the Public Service Commission revealed a plan for extending a major new natural gas line out to serve the International Paper plant. The $22.3 million, 12-inch line will provide enough gas out the length of the line to add other customers in the event the community is able to parcel together some land for a prospect.
Missy Kendrick, the new president of the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority, said having infrastructure in place enhances speed to market for any kind of new industrial development.
“That (gas line) will make a piece of property more attractive, which gives us a leg up on some competition, another site in another community, where they might have to run a gas line,” Kendrick said. “It’s a big deal but it’s only one piece of having a prepared and ready-for-development piece of property.”
The new gas line is not expected to be complete until some time in 2021.
For many years, the city and Rome Floyd Chamber pitched the former Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital property for redevelopment. Consultants were hired and a master plan for the property — featuring mixed use, with advanced manufacturing, medical office, retail and residential use — was shopped to prospects. Nothing happened and a city option to purchase the property expired. In stepped the Restoration Rome group and the idea for HOPE Village was conceived to address issues related to foster care and homelessness.
Looking ahead, Rich said, until something actually materializes with HOPE Village, he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the former hospital property, at least some of it, being used for job growth.
“If the right project were to show up, meaning something the community felt was a better first choice and the state felt was the right choice, I think anything is possible,” Rich said. “Short of that I think HOPE Village remains the first choice and it offers a host of benefits.”
Employment opportunities are certainly a part of that project.
The Berry Corporate Center looked like it was going to be the next major growth area but development along the Technology Parkway corridor has also slowed. Kendrick said her office had not taken any prospects out there since she took over a couple of months ago.
“I’m not sure what the activity was or has been before I got here,” Kendrick said. She has been going over information related to the Berry Corporate Center, trying to understand exactly what was available, what it looked like and what kind of information the development office has on the site.
The Berry property along Technology Parkway should be attractive to prospects who would serve a market to the west, Rich said. The automotive manufacturers in Alabama, for example. That’s precisely who Neaton serves. Neaton has expanded multiple times since coming to Rome.
The community cleared off 80 acres on the south side of Technology Parkway, a tract that is served by a Norfolk Southern rail line, to show to prospects several years ago, but nothing has materialized there.
The unknown factor when it comes to projects on Technology Parkway might be consideration of expanding Technology Parkway all the way around to connect to the West Rome bypass once it’s built.
“Over the years there has been a lot of conversation about that. I wouldn’t think that would be out of the realm of possibilities for future growth opportunities,” Rich said.
On the retail side, West Rome has Sam’s Club, Walmart, Lowe’s mixed in with Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, Bargain Hunt and Odd Lots. A new Burger King and Jack’s have filled vacancies along Shorter Avenue along with a new Del Taco which is under construction. Much of the space in some of the older shopping centers is occupied, but the new strip center on Shorter Avenue where World Hi-Fi was located is still largely vacant.
Retailers follow population and take a hard look at demographics. Many of the older communities that grew in West Rome after GE, Georgia Kraft and Georgia Power moved in are now full of rental homes. A large number of the owner-occupied homes are aging Baby Boomers who don’t always fit the demographics that top-tier retailers are looking for.
While South Rome and North Rome have been in the news often in recent months and years, West Rome has just plowed its course with very little attention.