Authority chairman Jeff Epperson, Fort Oglethorpe City Council member Louis Hamm who also serves on the authority, and authority members Derek Rogers and Bruce Fine approved minutes from the DDA’s Oct. 17 and Nov. 28 meetings, and then addressed membership.
Epperson told Hamm, Rogers and Fine there was a possibility one, two or all three of the DDA members who did not attend the meeting – Harry Patel, Karen Goodlet and Jack Bell –might resign. One of these three had missed three consecutive meetings, Epperson said. This could constitute an automatic resignation according to authority bylaws, he explained. The authority approved bylaws in July 2011, Fort Oglethorpe city clerk Carol Murray confirmed.
Epperson said he did not wish to see the thrice-absent member resign as, “He has done a great job.” The second of the three absentee members was sick, Epperson said, and the third had a scheduling conflict. The DDA currently meets at 6 p.m. the third Monday of the month. The authority agreed to consider rescheduling the monthly DDA meeting to better accommodate members’ schedules.
“We’ve got to have a consistent meeting time where we can have a quorum,” Epperson said. Otherwise, the authority will not be able to accomplish its goals, he added.
Epperson explained that to be eligible to serve on the authority, members must live in Fort Oglethorpe or own or operate a business in the Fort Oglethorpe downtown district and live in Walker or Catoosa counties. Residents or business people who are eligible and interested in serving on the DDA can pick up an application at city hall, he said. Eligible applicants must then be nominated by the authority and approved by the Fort Oglethorpe City Council, Hamm said. Residents interested in serving on any city commission also may pick up an application at city hall or from any commission or council member, Murray advised in an e-mail.
The authority also discussed being asked to take a lead role in promoting the LaFayette Road renovation project. Authority members attended a visioning session facilitated by the Refresh Committee on Dec. 6, during which residents and business owners offered input on what a renovated LaFayette Road corridor should look like. The committee’s task is to create a master plan for revitalizing the one-mile stretch of LaFayette Road between the entrance to Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park and Battlefield Parkway. The city received an Appalachian Regional Commission grant totaling $20,000 to fund the drafting of a master plan.
Epperson said the DDA should ensure a master plan comes together. Once Fort Oglethorpe submits an urban redevelopment plan to the state the LaFayette Road corridor would be eligible for an Opportunity Zone designation, he said.
New and existing businesses located in designated Opportunity Zones can receive up to $3,500 a year per job in state tax credits for creating two or more full-time jobs, according to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs website.
However, only businesses that are already located in the Opportunity Zone at the time of designation can receive the tax credits for up to 10 years, Epperson warned.
“The tax credits start when we are designated an Opportunity Zone,” he said. “If a business comes in two years after the designation they might only get tax credits for, say, eight years.”
One of the challenges facing the authority is to persuade LaFayette Road business owners to make physical improvements to their properties, Epperson continued.
“We’re asking business owners to take risks,” he said. To encourage business people to make these investments, the authority must show where the LaFayette Road renovation is headed, Epperson said.
Rogers suggested distributing a list of businesses located in the LaFayette Road corridor to area real estate agents. This way, Realtors can get the word to potential investors about the community’s efforts toward attaining an Opportunity Zone designation, he said. Rogers also offered to build a DDA website to inform residents about the authority and the LaFayette Road renovation project thereby generating public support for an Opportunity Zone designation.
“We’ve got to do it right, we’ve got to sell it right,” Rogers said.
Epperson said revitalizing Fort Oglethorpe’s historic downtown district benefits the entire community, not just local businesses.
“We’re doing this to help our area,” he said.