FOREST PARK, Ga. -- Jeremy in Forest Park sent an email to our 11Alive Waste Watchers tipline:
"Forest Park had whole sections of Main Street businesses closed and even tore some of them down in order to revitalize Main Street. So far, all I have seen is a big empty field . . . Where are they getting the money for all of this?"
The area he's talking about right in the middle of Main Street in Forest Park. There is a newly completed fountain with a large clock, benches, and fresh bricks.
It's a new focal point of Main Street. But it's surrounded on one side by boarded up buildings, and on another by an empty field. A sign there touts the "Main Street Redevelopment Corridor," funded by SPLOST.
At City Hall, 11Alive is directed to the City Manager, John Parker, for answers. He confirms that the city does own several of the empty buildings along Main Street.
"I agree with you, they don't look nice," he said. "And we're going to be taking those buildings out with our own crews."
Parker said training the city workers to do the demolition work will save taxpayer money. Forest Park has been taking the various empty buildings through inspections and demolition plans. Several have asbestos, which requires an abatement plan.
An old sky view of the area shows that two buildings standing then have been torn down. Most others in the two block area around centered at Main Street have been purchased by the city.
It's part of a $350 million Main Street Redevelopment Plan. The start money to make it happen comes from a six-year Special Local Option Sales Tax, which was approved by the voters of Forest Park. But Parker says the slowing economy means less SPLOST and a later start.
"Regardless of what people think, the economy has not actually turned around. It's still having its problems. That cuts back on the number of SPLOST dollars you receive and your programs that are based on those dollars," he said.
Parker also says this is a 20-year plan, and the SPLOST will have to be renewed for that continued funding as part of some future public-private partnership.
As for that empty field Jeremy complained about, Parker showed me soil testing and geological tests dated Apr. 5, 2012. It shows the city has been moving forward, even if residents don't see it. But they will soon.
Parker says in the next year, shovels will hit the dirt on that empty field, turning it into an underground parking deck with a park on top. Also, city crews have been trained in demolition so they can save money by taking down the old buildings themselves.
Forest Park is juggling several redevelopment projects at the same time: Main Street redevelopment, Fort Gilliam closing, and the Farmers Market revamp.