Envisioning an event plaza with food and artisan retail space as the door to the River District, an innovative plan intends to breathe additional life into the area around West Third Street.

A proposal submitted by FSRE IMPACT Rome River District LLC was given the green light by the Rome Redevelopment Committee this week for the development of a 2-acre lot owned by the city.

That lot is bordered by properties obtained by the development group. At the time the development group submitted its proposal, the company had acquired 2.5 additional acres in the River District. It also has another 0.6-acre site under contract.

While the committee did not take a formal vote to accept the proposal, the developers are expected to appear before the Rome City Commission caucus on March 8 to discuss the plan in detail.

“Their overall vision for the property is innovative and is purposeful,” City Manager Sammy Rich said. “They’ve got a very comprehensive plan, they’ve acquired eight or nine parcels in the River District and are working pretty feverishly over there.”

The proposal itself calls for an event plaza and food hall with artisan retail space.

“They see that as the front door to the River District,” Rich said.

Investment and return

The group has proposed paying the city $407,000 for the property and indicated they will need “generous infrastructure support and tax incentives from the city” to bring the plan to fruition.

If the commissioners accept that price, it means that the city will have sold properties, including the Marriott Rome Riverwalk, for somewhere around half of what it bought the land for more than a decade ago.

While the city paid approximately $800,000 for the land, retired City Manager John Bennett said they never really envisioned getting a full cash compensation.

“We paid way over market value to be able to control what went in at the end of the pedestrian bridge,” Bennett said. “That’s always been the No. 1 thing.”

The 15,000-square-foot event plaza is targeted for the city parcel because of its proximity to the Chief John Ross Memorial Bridge to Barron Stadium and the Downtown Tennis Center.

The developers believe the area could serve as a weekend and special event draw.

The phased development proposal also indicates the group will include 250,000 square feet of workforce housing and 10,000 square feet of artisan retail space on adjacent properties in the initial phase of their redevelopment plan.

They have estimated the price tag for the first phase of their project at $43 million.

“It will be a unique development for us,” Rich said. “It’s not just another building, but a collaboration of different uses that will come together in this space.”

A mixture of uses

The FSRE group was one of two to submit proposals for the property, the other submitted by Broad Street LLC, led by Rome businessman Ira Levy.

The development group is a joint venture partnership between CCI OZ Fund LLC which owns 58% of the company; Tierra Firme LLC which owns 37%; and BSW Capital Group LLC which has a 5% stake.

Principals in the development organization include Alex Dominguez, Jeff Warwick, Bob Grigsby, Andrew Cathy and Blake Goodman.

Their combined credentials speak to a wealth of experience and vision.

Dominguez is a retired senior director of real estate for Chick-fil-A. Warwick is retired from Bank of America Merrill Lynch where he was an executive in global real estate. Grigsby is the founder of the BSW Capital Group, which empowers entrepreneurial enterprises. Goodman was executive director for Chick-fil-A real estate investments.

A group of city staff officials including Public Works Director Chris Jenkins, Planning Director Artagus Newell, planner Brice Wood, Tourism Director Lisa Smith, Becky Smyth from purchasing, DDA Director Aundi Lesley and others reviewed both proposals and determined the FSRE proposal was the best fit for the community.

The Levy proposal originally called for a single building on the property with retail space on the ground level and approximately two dozen residential units on upper floors.

“When we got to the interview they revised their proposal and had kind of gone away from the mixed-use and just do residential only,” Rich said.

The city manager said the FSRE proposal would set the tone for a high-density mixture of uses.

That mixed-use proposal sang the tune of “destination” in the ears of Lisa Smith. But not just any destination, one that drives tourism.

“A destination that will drive our economy by not having something just for locals,” Smith said.

Agreeing with that assertion, Jenkins told the Redevelopment Committee that the model for the plaza would be the hub of a much larger development.

“You would actually have people coming from out of town to visit this area,” Jenkins said.

Plus the plan fits in with what the city has been working towards for a while, Newell said. The city has had a vision codified in the Downtown Master Plan for several years.

“The proposal seemed to fit very well into that overall vision with those plans and documents,” Newell said.

“I do think that it helps round out our downtown district as a whole,” said Lesley. She said the proposal doesn’t create any competition, or a replication of what is already on Broad Street.

“It addresses entertainment, it’s mixed-used, with workforce housing specifically, we feel good about it,” Lesley said.

From events to residents

The additional phases of the FSRE development are slated to include multifamily residential housing, office space and a business incubator/accelerator.

Altogether, FSRE is envisioning an investment of close to $128 million in the River District.

They estimate that construction of their project would begin in late 2021 and take approximately 18-24 months to complete.

This is the third time that the city has attempted to develop the 2-acre parcel.

Rome real estate developers David Doss and Wayne Robinson each proposed a mixed-use residential/retail on the property but could never get the numbers to work.

Doss still has control of a small outparcel on the Second Avenue side of the Courtyard by Marriott Rome Riverwalk.

He said there has been some activity in that less than an acre tract and he anticipates being able to announce something for that site sometime in the spring.

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