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.