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Braselton will issue bonds to pay for revitalizing downtown
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BRASELTON — The Braselton Town Council voted Monday to fund five planned projects in its downtown area by issuing bonds.

The council voted unanimously to authorize Town Manager Jennifer Dees to request proposals from banks for Urban Redevelopment Agency bonds to help fund the realignment of Ga. 124, the creation of a town green and the addition of streetscapes along three roads in town.

The council voted to reactivate its Urban Redevelopment Agency (URA), which Dees said is "dedicated to the revitalization of downtown."

The URA has bond-issuing authority and previously issued bonds to pay for the Braselton Police and Municipal Court Building, which opened in July 2006, and the Braselton Library, which opened in September 2006.

For the URA to oversee funding for the projects, council members had to designate a new district in the downtown area and legally label it a "slum."

When both the police building and library were built, Dees said those too were designated as "slum" areas.

"Basically what that means is that that is an area that hasn’t seen revitalization and redevelopment," Dees explained. "(It) is an area of lightened decay in which some properties have been kept up and rehabilitated, but other properties have been allowed to decay."

The town designated an area in Jackson County that is bordered by Interstate 85 on the northern side, the city limits on the eastern side, the
Hoschton city limits on the southern side and land fronting the western sides of Jesse Cronic and Piedmont roads as the new district.

This excludes the Keys Crossing neighborhood and industrial-zoned land in front of Zion Church Road.

Councilman Ralph Richardson Jr. said while he supported the revitalization concept, he was concerned with the town designating its entire downtown area as a "slum."

"While I think that we have some areas that could stand to be cleaned up, I just don’t see it as a slum," he said.

Mayor Pat Graham said while she agreed with Richardson on the terminology, the downtown area does need some work, and issuing URA bonds remains the only available tool to achieve that.

"I think we need to have the political will to be aggressive and to be proactive with our downtown development and our downtown redevelopment," she said. "That’s the only way we’re going to get the significant change and draw private investment into this area that is so badly needed."

The town will repay its bonds over a 20-year period using funds received through its tax allocation district, Dees said. It also has $800,000 in state funds to help with the Ga. 124 realignment and $500,000 in state funds for one streetscape project.

Permitting is complete on the Ga. 124 realignment, and Dees said the town will hopefully start the bidding process in September.

With the streetscapes, Braselton wants to install sidewalks and streetlights along Ga. 124 and from Ga. 53 up to I-85.

Braselton plans to build the town green in front of the historic Braselton Brothers Store after Ga. 124 has been relocated.

Once work on each of the five projects begins, Dees said the completion date for all should be between 24 to 36 months, depending on the design of the town green.

These projects, as well as the library and police building, are included in a 20-year downtown plan that residents created in 2002, she said.

Other future projects include building an amphitheater and bringing more retail and residential developments into downtown. This new district designation, said Dees, will allow the URA to cover all of these projects, if needed.