Even when bad things happen to good people in a bad economy that does not preclude that such a proverbial sow’s ear can’t be turned into a silk purse. This may be the case regarding one of the 158 properties on which local real-estate investor Larry Martin owes back taxes to the extent that they are scheduled for a Nov. 6 sheriff’s sale on the steps of the Floyd County Courthouse.
That likely sounds worse than it is as Martin, who owns about every vacant corner lot in the county, has a lot more properties than 158. However, he is in the business of buying (and paying for), selling and renting land/buildings at a time when for about four years that has not been a “happy days” part of the economy. He’s got a cash-flow problem ... as of course do local governments who are scrimping for every revenue penny they can find.
WHAT’S INTERESTING, intriguing and open to some initiative by downtown interests/city fathers is that one of those properties is 324 Broad Street, a standing facade behind which remains nothing usable due to a fire — 25 years ago.
That happens to be, for general public area/access purposes, the site with the greatest current potential for improving the downtown flow of foot traffic and general lifestyle access. Interestingly, in the course of an editorial about 20 months ago, this newspaper singled out that site as a potential dog park and noted a special added benefit:
It could be the “twin” to Opera Alley directly on the other side of Broad, is right at a pedestrian crosswalk, and could create a mid-block “cut though” that allows a much easier connection between The Forum/Town Green/Heritage Trail system to East First Street ... and an empty area next to the County Administration Building that would be ideal for a future additional parking garage.
That earlier discussion included 326 Broad St., sold at auction by Martin not long ago to an adjoining business and still a viable building worth far more than 324 which, although twice the size, is basically an empty lot with a two-story brick fence in front of it.
AT THE TIME, the paper pointed out: “The city, and maybe the county as well as it should have an interest in tying its headquarters more directly to Broad Street, could always ‘trade’ forgiveness on some of the back property taxes Martin now owes in exchange for those properties. Money not yet collected and past due, after all, wasn’t spent in completed budgets. Martin has an obligation yet to meet; the city/county have an opportunity yet to seize ... possible even ‘for free’.”
Ahem! This should have been done then, but it is an absolute “no-brainer” now.
Whatever the city “paid” would obviously instantly return to Rome, Floyd County and the Rome Schools, which share such property-tax revenues on not only this “storefront” but also on Martin’s many other tax bills.
Martin bought 324 Broad for $46,200 in 2002. It is assessed at $43,310 on the land only, there being no “improvements.” He owes in taxes/penalties $1,189.01 for 2009; $857.57 for 2010; $782.39 for 2011 and $625.69 for 2012 ... due next month.
The true value is likely far more than the assessment as downtown empty land is a very rare animal. There would have to be an appraisal but it could be worth four or five times more than its “tax book value.”
Assuming a price can be agreed upon, no matter how much local government might pay it would instantly come right back as Martin obviously would use such proceeds to pay back taxes on some of his other properties.
Good for Martin but even better for local government as it becomes Rome (and/or Downtown Development) that makes all future decisions on how that real estate will be used. Possession determines possibility.
GIVEN PUBLIC budgets at the moment, no instant improvement would be required although that might be a lot easier and less expensive to accomplish than most citizens might believe.
Rome public-works, for example, has gotten really, really good at demolition, grading, landscaping, construction. Basically this involves maybe keeping the facade with some dolling up and opening up, putting in a sidewalk and some grass, trees and flowers.
A full dog park (for romping, etc.) might not be feasible with the other building now not part of what the paper earlier envisioned, but a “dog walk” is certainly possible for the growing number of downtown residents who have or desire pets. With, as mentioned earlier, “poop-bag dispensers, a trash receptacle, a video cam to deal with untidy scofflaws.” Moreover daily maintenance of such an area would be no big deal — that’s what the constant army of community-service probationers are for.
More “parking” might also be added in this wide space ... for bicycles. With the in-town trail system constantly growing and centered on downtown, having secure racks available for 100 or so pedaling visitors might do as much for Broad Street by way of diners/shoppers/customers as would 100 more parking slots for cars.
THIS IS WHAT is known as a slam-dunk opportunity. With downtown currently already making positive plays right and left — not only on Broad Street itself but also in the immediate vicinity — might as well run up the score.
There’s also that old saying taught us by a wise birdie about a piece of property in the hand being worth two on the wish list.