A strip of Martha Berry Boulevard has grabbed the attention from private developers who want to improve the northern entrance to the city.
“This place is a sewer,” was the description of a section of that road by Harrison Ford during a line in the 1986 film “Mosquito Coast.”
Several scenes from the early part of that movie were filmed in Rome and Armuchee. In more recent years, sections from Redmond Road toward the Turner McCall Boulevard intersection have become well known for prostitution, human trafficking and drug activity, City Commissioner Craig McDaniel said.
“To me it is the black eye of Rome right now,” he said.
There’s been some respite with developments nearer Floyd Medical Center — Chicken Salad Chick for example — which have begun to clean up the look of the area.
In an effort to help out, McDaniel told commissioners he has helped arrange for some of Rome’s homeless population to stay in motels along the corridor from time to time.
“You have single parents with kids that live in some of those motels but there are also women that are being prostituted,” McDaniel said. “It’s hard to get the right commercial development through there. A lot of people don’t want to drive through that corridor now because of what they see.”
“You’ve got to play dodgeball when you go down through there,” Mayor Bill Collins said.
Commissioners Jim Bojo, Mark Cochran and McDaniel said they have been approached individually by a group of investors. Those investors have expressed serious interest in redeveloping the whole corridor and wanted to gauge interest from the city in a public-private partnership.
The group had the fiscal wherewithal to tackle perhaps three or four projects simultaneously, Bojo said.
“They love Rome and they know there are some problems up there,” Bojo said.
This past Wednesday, Dempsey Auction conducted a sale of 0.67-acre property in the heart of that strip at West 10th Street and Martha Berry Boulevard.
Dempsey President Lou Dempsey said four bidders were involved with the auction but that the final high bid of $270,000 was rejected by the current owners, JKM Investments.
Negotiations began almost immediately with one of the other bidders and on Friday afternoon that the auctioneer fully expected to close the deal soon.
Commissioner Wendy Davis suggested that the city could buy up some of the property along the corridor, like it did on West Third Street, and then tell developers the city feels is most needed and appropriate in that area.
Rome converted the former police department building and purchased three adjacent properties to help attract the Courtyard Rome Riverwalk hotel property to that site almost ten years ago.
The developers were ready willing and able to make the purchases on their own, Bojo said, and he didn’t feel the city needed to spend any of its money. However, the group wanted to know if the city was willing to assist with infrastructure improvements, such as perhaps widening the road, or creating streetscape like sidewalk improvements.
“They’re ready to start today,” Bojo said.
All of the property on the east side of Martha Berry Boulevard from Turner McCall Boulevard north to the Fifth Avenue intersection is included in a Tax Allocation District an would qualify for some financial assistance for redevelopment.
As flu season approaches and new COVID-19 infections continue to remain high locally, health department officials recommend now more than ever to get a flu shot.
“This flu season is going to be more challenging than ever due to the added risk of COVID-19 in our community,” Floyd County Health Department Nurse Manager Alison Watson said. “Influenza and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.”
The Floyd County Health Department at 16 E. 12th St. offers a quadrivalent flu vaccine on a walk-in basis. The particular type of vaccine provides a broader protection against flu viruses and is more effective for people 65 and older, a Department of Public Health press release stated.
“It is possible for a person to get both the COVID-19 virus and the influenza virus at the same time or back-to-back,” says Watson. “You can protect yourself and others from influenza by getting the flu vaccine early this year, wearing a mask, practicing safe physical distancing, washing hands frequently, and staying home if you are sick with any kind of symptoms.”
New infections for COVID-19 in Floyd County continue to stay high and the number people infected in the past two weeks has begun to rise again after a short period of decline.
There were 49 new infections reported Friday for a total of 421 in the past two weeks.
Now being on the cusp of flu season, public health officials are urging people to get a flu vaccine. Flu season usually begins in October but can begin as early as September and last well into March. Peak flu season in Georgia usually occurs in late January and early February.
“It’s more important than ever to get vaccinated,” Watson says. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused shortages of hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators even outside of flu season. During flu season, when both the flu and COVID-19 will be circulating, hospitals may again face shortages, limiting their ability to care for people who are seriously ill with the flu, COVID-19, or both.”
Georgia stepped over the 300,000 mark for cumulative cases yesterday. For reference, the state passed 200,000 cases in the beginning of August and 100,000 in early July. The first cases were reported in Georgia in March.
Spikes in cases are typically followed by spikes in the number of hospitalizations. A late July, early August jump in the number of COVID-19 infections — attributed to people eschewing social distancing practices on holiday weekends — led to stark increases in hospitalizations locally.
On Friday, there were 42 COVID-19 positive patients in local hospitals. That number has been slowly declining since mid-August highs in the 70s.
Public health officials have said some of the symptoms of flu and COVID are similar, and it may be hard to tell them apart based on symptoms.
According to the CDC, common symptoms shared by COVID and the flu include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain of body aches, headache as well as vomiting and diarrhea. However many people infected with COVID-19 have included a change or loss of taste and smell.
As a part of the Floyd County School Board work session on Friday morning, Interim Superintendent Glenn White recommended the school system permanently close Cave Spring Elementary and Glenwood Primary in 2022.
Before any action is taken on any closing recommendations the board will have to hold public meetings as well as meetings with local school governance teams for input. The board would then have to vote on the measure.
“We have to make those decisions to stay on firm financial grounds,” White said. In order to stay away from laying off staff, like in the 2013 reduction in force or other such measures, he said they’re having to make tough decisions.
The school system is currently at 9,300 students and the student population continues to decline. And they’re continuing to foot the bill for maintaining facilities designed for a larger student population.
This isn’t the first time the idea of closing schools in the shrinking school system. Midway School on Rockmart Highway closed in 2015 and McHenry Primary will officially close after the sixth and seventh grade graders shift back to Pepperell Middle School.
White said after the meeting that the school system has too many buildings and not enough students.
The closing of schools would be part of a long term plan to ensure the system’s fiscal strength.
“This is the first step in a long-term process of making FCS financially sound,” he said. “All FCS faculty and staff members will continue to have a position within the school district regardless of school closures.”
Until that time, White recommended shifting around students for the 2021-2022 school year.
All fifth-grade classes would move to the middle school for their area so all Floyd County middle schools will house fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. All Floyd County high schools will remain grades eight through 12.
Pepperell Middle School will move to its new facility during the summer of 2021.
Pepperell Primary School second grade will move to Pepperell Elementary School. Pepperell Elementary will house second, third and fourth grades. Pepperell Primary will remain Pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade.
The school system is also planning to give their virtual learning students the choice to continue learning online for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year.
Parents will have a window to decide to take in-person classes or the virtual learning classes from Monday, Sept. 21, to Friday, Oct. 2, at 4 p.m. At that point, students will be locked into their chosen in-person learning or the virtual academy until the end of the school year.
That decision, White said, came down to serious difficulties in scheduling.
“The scheduling issues are massive,” White said. “It’s really stressful right now.”
He talked about elementary school classes who had to switch teachers after two weeks of classes because of scheduling teachers for virtual learning programs.
“That’s traumatic for younger children,” White said. “We can’t continue to do that all year long.”
The school system will likely take three additional teacher planning days for the current semester due to COVID-19 and scheduling-related issues.
The board will be voting during Monday’s regular board meeting to make Oct. 19-20 and Nov. 30 teacher planning days and student holidays. They’re trying to tie those days into the fall and Thanksgiving breaks in order to deep clean all school facilities.
City officials are ready to aggressively seek new commercial activity along Redmond Circle on a 12-acre strip in front of the long-abandoned General Electric plant.
City Commissioner Wendy Davis also suggested during a city retreat Thursday that city leadership contact General Electric officials to see if there isn’t some way to improve the look of the old medium transformer facility.
General Electric donated 123 acres of property surrounding the northwest, eastern and most of the southern property around the plant to the city in 2015. Much of that property comes with restrictive covenants governing what can and cannot be developed on the site because of PCB toxins possibly in the soil.
GE Site Manager Cody Platt said the company performed an extensive environmental clean-up years ago of a ditch that leaves the property and ultimately feeds into Little Dry Creek.
“There are still some monitoring wells in the property that was donated to the city,” Platt said. “They are called sentinel wells. We don’t see anything in them but we continue to monitor them.”
A narrow strip in front of the plant could be developed for commercial purposes and Mayor Bill Collins suggested the city go ahead and put signs up indicating the property was available.
“I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen a developer knock on the door,” said City Manager Sammy Rich.
“I don’t know that people actually know it’s available,” said Commissioner Craig McDaniel.
There are several curb cuts into the acreage off Redmond Circle closer to Walmart which would make access to any kind of development somewhat easier. The only access in front of the old GE plant, the northern frontage, are the main entrance drives to the plant and massive parking lot.
Members of the commission still seemed to like the idea of redeveloping of the back section of the property that GE donated to the city for recreational purposes.
A section of the land between the plant and Lavender Drive has been developed for walking and biking trails with the help of non-profit Trails for Recreation and Economic Development volunteers.
The trails which meander through much of that property have won wide acceptance from both the biking and walking community over the past three years. Rome’s dog owners have gotten a lot of use out of the park because the trail are natural surface, not paved, and good on the dog’s feet.
The portion of the greenspace closest to Redmond Circle is known as the GE Trails at Garrard Park, named for Dr. John L. Garrard, the original owner of the land who sold the acreage to General Electric more than half a century ago.
Dr. Garrard used a significant portion of that property as a runway for his love of flight.
The recreation plan for the back section of the property shows both ball fields and soccer fields however the commission did not indicate any particular hurry to build out the recreational opportunities.