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Retail development, beautification top priorities
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While the pending transportation tax referendum was dubbed the No. 1 priority last during last week’s Liberty County-wide Planning Workshop at St. Simons Island, leaders made it clear that quality of life also is a major concern.

That’s why community beautification and retail development rounded out the leaders’ top three short-term priorities. Participants identified building a civic center or meeting space, image building and health care as long-term priorities.

Facilitator Langford Holbrook, who attended the workshop with two others from the University of Georgia Fanning Institute, identified the common theme of quality of life that ties most of the short- and long-term priorities together.

And while many of the objectives are interconnected, Holbrook challenged the group to break quality of life down into smaller, more manageable issues.

On Friday, the group broke into smaller groups and brainstormed ways to resolve the issues.

Beautification and aesthetics

Holbrook, who led three groups through discussion on the issue of beautification Thursday, summarized the issue before the reconvened group on Friday.  

To Holbrook, the group discussion indicated that leaders were concerned about first impressions as people travel into the county, especially at the interchange of Interstate 95 and Highway 84 and along Highway 196. He also indicated hearing comments about blight, trailers, tall grass, signage and unkempt properties.

The issue is complicated by the fact that the governments cannot fully control how private property owners maintain their structures and properties. However, one proposal is the revision of code ordinances and ensuring that they are enforced, he said.
Facilitator Skip Teaster told the group that making aesthetic changes can have a big impact later and cited Columbus as a beautification model.

The community adopted the crepe myrtle as its uniform tree of choice and invested in landscaping, he said. As a result, both the commercial and residential landscaping businesses exploded.

“This process changes the whole complexion of the community, and it also enhances your economic development process …,” Teaster said. “And it’s not done with garden clubs — it’s done with a lot of effort.”

The group that discussed this issue presented the following solutions:

• First objective: construct unified gateway signs to notify travelers when they arrive in Liberty County and in each of its municipalities

• People responsible: board of commissioners Chairman John McIver to oversee implementation

• Timetable: to be constructed prior to March 2013

• Budget: variable costs depending on sign design, but each entity will have to make budget arrangements for the signs

• Partners: elected officials, convention and visitors’ bureau, Georgia Department of Transportation and property owners (for right-of-way use), Keep Liberty Beautiful, a gateway design review board, and Hinesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization as the technical advisor for sign specifications

• Obstacles: funding, organizing the efforts, establishing consensus on design and branding, securing permits and permission and determining future maintenance

• First three steps:

1. McIver to call a meeting with mayors on or before April 24 to identify locations or focus and partners

2. Establish partnerships

3. Identify funding

• Second objective: Launch a public education campaign to encourage people to recycle, clean their properties and reduce litter

• People responsible: Keep Liberty Beautiful Executive Director Sara Swida.

During the planning, participants expressed concern about assigning work to people who were not present at the planning. The facilitators suggested that a board member, supervisor or other partner close to the individual notify him or her. Because Swida did not attend the workshop, County Administrator Joey Brown agreed to discuss the issue, project and objectives with her.

• Timetable: Begin immediately with frequent evaluation

• Budget: Timmerman said there already are some funds allocated for such a campaign, and there would be no additional staff requirement due to KLB’s presence.

• Partners: the convention and visitors’ bureau, municipal governments, law enforcement, the chamber

• Obstacles: convincing people to change their mindset and overcoming apathy

First three steps:

1. KLB needs to engage listed partners

2. Convey the partnership objectives

3. Implement the campaign

Retail development

Facilitator David Hooker, who led Thursday’s discussion on retail development, summarized the issue.

Workshop participants said a shortage of retail options sends many residents — and their money — to neighboring counties to shop. In working groups, some asked how many participants were wearing clothing that they purchased in Liberty County, and others cited a shortage of places to eat.

The shortage of shopping destinations affects both quality of life and the local economy, as shoppers have reduced access to purchasing opportunities, and Liberty municipalities are losing sales-tax revenue to larger markets like Savannah and Brunswick.

Participants cited high land costs in Liberty County and complicated commercial listings that do not give prospective businesses a thorough look at available properties as factors that inhibit retail development. Different tax incentives in surrounding areas may also be a factor, though some pointed out in discussions that governments need to be careful when creating tax incentives so as to not offend those who opened businesses before the incentives were granted.

The group that discussed this issue presented the following solutions:

• First objective: Develop a comprehensive database with information on current business and commercial properties to be shared with prospective retailers

• People responsible: Poole, Davis, LCDA marketing director Anna Chafin, the current president of the Hinesville Area Board of Realtors, and Anna Phillips with GIS

• Timetable: 60 days to complete and publish the database

• Budget: Cost is staff time, with possible printing and web work down the road.

• Partners: the Board of Realtors, local governments, developers and the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission

• Obstacles: maintaining most current information and assigning and managing the staff to ensure information is current

• First three steps:

1. Reconvene a retail attraction committee

2. Develop inventory based on business license and real estate records

3. Publish the information and communicate with target markets

• Second objective: Increase recruiting efforts with inspiration from other groups that have successful recruitment records

• People responsible: Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, LCDA board member John McIver, HDDA chairman Donald Lovette, chamber of commerce Chairwoman Susan McCorkle; and supporting staff members Chafin, Poole and Davis

• Timetable: begin work on June 1 with information from the database

• Budget: staff time

• Partners: other officials and appropriate staff

• Obstacles: coordinating schedules and securing commitment from partners

• First three steps:

1. Research businesses and best practices from others

2. Develop targets and opportunities

3. Implement information learned in research

For more on the long-term issues established during the meeting, see upcoming editions of the Coastal Courier.

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