Conyers officials set 2012 strategy at retreat

CONYERS -- A new year brings a new set of issues. That was the message the Conyers City Council had during its annual retreat this weekend as they sought to find ways to improve service and quality of life while encouraging business growth.

The discussion, held at the Legacy Lodge at Lake Lanier, follows the latest trend for local officials as they continue to deal with the effects of a down economy while also positioning the community to be ready when better days come.

Mayor Randy Mills said he strongly believes a business incubator can benefit the community by encouraging start-up businesses. The city had an offer from Acuity Brands to use a 500,000-square-foot building, but the city determined it was financially unfeasible to convert it into a business incubator.

Mills called the incubator the city's effort in "birthing new businesses" and should be the third leg of the city's economic strategy along with business retention and attracting new businesses to locate here.

Councilman Vince Evans said he wanted the city to begin considering how best to use the new mixed-use development district that runs north of Interstate 20 up to Green Street and between Ga. Highway 138 and the West Avenue commercial district.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs granted Conyers an Opportunity Zone designation for an area that targets redevelopment. Under the designation, new businesses and businesses that add employees can take advantage of a tax credit.

Evans mentioned the recent announced redevelopment plans for the former Olympic tennis venue at Stone Mountain that will incorporate similar mixed-use zoning.

"I hope we can begin talking about what we are going to do with that property and determine some kind of development that would create similar buzz," Evans said.

Councilman Chris Bowen agreed and said the potential is there "to have a real gem" with the right development.

Other issues brought by council members include:

-- Olde Town parking: Councilman John Fountain said the city should look for new options to increase parking. He noted the city through the Downtown Development Authority has acquired some properties in Olde Town. "Whether there are long-term plans or not for those properties we should consider using those areas for parking," he said.

-- Councilman Cleveland Stroud raised his concerns for the need for more law enforcement presence in residential areas. He agreed with the recent vote to install cameras in commercial areas to help the city's Police Department. He hopes police can identify high crime areas for the first phase of installing cameras.

-- Councilman Gerald Hinesley said the Olde Town Trail has been a huge success since it was dedicated last year and hopes the city can build on that. Plans are to extend the trail to Johnson Park and eventually connect with the South River Trail.

Among staff reports, Chief Operating Officer David Spann spoke on the city's new emphasis in code enforcement and business permits with law enforcement in mind.

Spann explained the city had experienced problems with special events permits that resulted in large gatherings of people involving alcohol that led to police response.

Spann said the city marshal now steps in for all permit inquiries involving night clubs or alcohol. The marshal goes over the city's ordinance concerning night clubs and serving alcohol.

Spann said he has seen benefits with this approach and believes it will help the Police Department by reducing those types of incidents.

"When we have that first contact with people it may be their only meeting with the city, and we get them headed in the right direction from the get-go on what they need to do in the city," Spann said.