Salem Gate to get face-lift
Ill. developer seeks to annex property into the city of Conyers

CONYERS - The old girl known as the Salem Gate shopping center is in line for a face-lift as an Illinois-based developer seeks to annex the property into the city of Conyers.

The Conyers-Rockdale Planning Commission unanimously voted Thursday to recommend the request of Tri-Land Properties Inc. to annex about 21 acres into the city for the purposes of redeveloping the 35-year-old shopping center.

Hugh D. Robinson, vice president of Tri-Land Properties, explained that Salem Gate is typical of the properties his company purchases and rehabilitates. Salem Gate is in need of refurbishing and appears to be in decline. The shopping center is 40 percent occupied in mostly short-term leases.

"Salem Gate is the poster child of the type of property we acquire," Robinson said. "Our goal is a complete renovation."

Robinson said if the annexation and rezoning is approved, his company plans to replace the roof, sidewalks, resurface the parking lot and bring in landscaping to meet city requirements.

As with other properties the company manages, Robinson said they were seeking an anchor tenant in the refurbished shopping center. They have sought a big box retail chain and a motel chain to possibly locate at Salem Gate. Robinson said Salem Gate's location at Interstate 20 in the heart of the city's commercial district made the property attractive to them.

However, the recent economic downturn has cooled interest from retailers the company has spoken to. Robinson said the company is only in talks with a "mid- level" motel chain.

Tri-Land's plans do not include Stoneway shopping center, which includes Daddy's bar and grill but is connected to Salem Gate. Robinson said the redevelopment plans do not include Stoneway at this time and any collaboration with Tri-Land would have to come from Stoneway's owners.

Planning Commission Vice Chairman Chuck Russell asked Robinson about the possibility of putting in mixed-use development to have residential and commercial on the property. Robinson said it was unlikely given the state of the housing market.

Tri-Land's requested annexation into the city and to change the property's zoning from the county's C-2 commercial to the city's HSB highway service business. A public hearing will be held before the City Council's next meeting at 6 p.m., Wednesday. After the public hearing, the city council will take action on the request.

Conyers City Manager Tony Lucas explained that the developers sought annexation to take advantage of some financing mechanism for redevelopment available in the city but not in unincorporated Rockdale County.

Among those are the Tax Allocation Districts, or TADs, that were approved by city residents in a 2007 referendum.

A TAD is designed to generate private sector investment into an area and ultimately increase property value through development. A local government would issue bonds for infrastructure improvements, which are then paid off through the difference in tax revenue from the initial property assessment and the reassessed land value.

TADs have been used across the state to spur redevelopment, including Atlantic Station in Atlanta.

Lucas said there has been one decision on using a TAD for redeveloping Salem Gate. He said Tri-Land Properties met with the city, the Chamber of Commerce and the county's Development Authority on what could be offered to help in the project. Lucas said annexation came out as the best option available.

"It's another tool in the tool chest for economic development in the city," Lucas said.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com