Business is booming across Rome and Floyd County. Take a quick trip, maybe not so quick, from one side of town to the other and it’s easy to witness the wealth of commercial construction underway.
Someone coming into Rome from the east will notice work going on in the East Bend shopping center at Turner McCall Boulevard and Hicks Drive. A new Fazoli’s restaurant is rising rapidly behind the new Texas Roadhouse. Behind Fazoli’s, work is underway on both the Old Navy and Kohl’s stores.
Fazoli’s should open sometime this summer while Kohl’s and Old Navy are expected to be ready in time for the Christmas shopping season to begin in October.
Once you pass Floyd Medical Center, a Big Dan’s Car Wash is under construction across from Moe’s Southwest Grill. A little further out Shorter Avenue, an upscale used car lot, Easy Auto, is nearing completion.
Get beyond Sam’s Club and the new West Rome location for Starbucks is coming out of the ground. And, a little farther to the west, the steel for new Raceway fuel station is starting to go up this week.
Rome Mayor Craig McDaniel, who is a commercial real estate agent, credits much of the activity to several years of a very strong economy. The activity in West Rome in particular, he said, stems from an intentional effort to bring exposure that side of town.
“The majority of the population that lives in Rome lives west of the river,” McDaniel said. “We’ve gone through a transition from a very strong manufacturing base — which caused the development of the subdivisions and then all of the retail. Now, a lot of the manufacturing is gone but all of a sudden a lot of retail is out there.”
Rome Floyd Chamber President Jeanne Krueger joined McDaniel in anticipation of the 2020 Census numbers due later this year. Both would argue, anecdotally at least, that Rome and Floyd County has experienced some growth over the last five years, much of that people moving to Georgia to take advantage of the pro-business climate.
Bill Temple, another real estate executive, said that for years much of the growth north of Atlanta has been on the east side, up the I-85 and Ga. 400 corridors. Now, according to Temple, McDaniel and Krueger, the northwest region is starting to attract interest.
“As people are moving north of Atlanta, I think we are seeing growth like never before,” Krueger said. “It’s going to spur business startups and with that comes new construction. It’s very encouraging.”
Krueger said that construction is taking place to help meet an increased demand.
The chamber is at least a little bit concerned about the numbers in the existing workforce. But officials say they’re optimistic that the quality of life, plus the educational opportunities and strong healthcare market, will make Rome an attractive place for newcomers to settle.
“There is a sense of excitement out there right now that I have not seen in a long time,” McDaniel said. “We’ve got some small businesses that are still struggling, primarily because they can’t find help, but that’s a different challenge.”
One of the aspects of the commercial and retail growth that excites public officials is that a lot of it has involved the transformation of vacant properties and empty buildings into revenue-generating entities.
The new East Bend shopping center sits where Kmart was vacant for several years. The Ledbetter Properties pro-forma for that development projected at least 400 new jobs when fully built out. It also projects the generation of between $800,000 and $1 million in sales taxes annually and that doesn’t even begin to consider property taxes.
Robert H. Ledbetter Jr., president of R.H. Ledbetter Properties, said Rome has always been a little under-served across the retail sector and he felt the time had come to turn over some of the vacant properties.
More than just Rome, Ledbetter said the entire Southeast seems to be a very strong market at present. He speculated that some of the activity taking place at this time is due to uncertainty about interest rates in the future.
“That’s the $64,000 question. Nobody knows what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen,” Ledbetter said. “So either you do something now or you do nothing.”
The new Raceway fueling station in West Rome similarly spans three lots that have been vacant for a number of years. The new Starbucks on Shorter Avenue is replacing a closed Hardee’s. Big Dan’s Car Wash is replacing the former Builders Hardware, which moved back to John Davenport Drive.
Rome’s River District — the North Fifth Avenue and West Third Street corridors — is expected to see major development over the course of the next year to 18 months. Four Stones Real Estate bought up numerous parcels and has plans for a major mixed-use development with as many as 200 residential units along with commercial and retail space.
The same firm was selected by the city to redevelop a 2-acre tract adjacent to the Courtyard Rome Riverwalk hotel. Plans for that tract are still being refined.
“They seem to be chomping at the bit,” said Rome City Manager Sammy Rich. He said he could not project when the group hopes to break ground on the first phase of what will be a multiyear, multimillion dollar redevelopment.