By David Pendered
Emory Morsberger is still having incredible days, and now they are spent nurturing the Stone Mountain Community Improvement District.
In less than a year, the region’s newest CID has made demonstrable improvements to the quality of life and streetscapes in a teetering area along the Gwinnett/DeKalb county line.
But the vision of this CID goes beyond creating streets that are pretty and secure. It’s about creating jobs.
“Our goal is to create 2,000 jobs in the CID,” Morsberger said. “Our first priority has been to secure it and clean it up, and then we’re going to fill it up. We have 2 million square feet of vacant space in an industrial area that has 10 million square feet. Once we fill it up, we’ll create 2,000 jobs.
“This CID is about economic development,” Morsberger said. “The Atlanta Regional Commission has awarded us a grant to help with that effort, and we are one of the first ones to receive this kind of grant.”
ARC’s Livable Centers Initiative awarded an inaugural Innovation Grant in February to the Stone Mountain CID. The Innovation Grant was created this year to support what the ARC describes as “jurisdiction-wide policies, plans or programs that focus on livable communities, consistent with the goals of PLAN 2040 and LCI.”
The one other recipient was Atlanta, which will study ways to promote the use of bicycles in the central city.
The LCI provided $80,000 to the Stone Mountain CID to help pay for a $100,000 study that is to evaluate “transportation improvements and development strategies to attract a stronger freight and logistics presence as well as emerging industries,” according to the LCI award.
One key challenge is to help trucks navigate the district. Streets built 50 years ago barely accommodate today’s long tractor-trailer rigs.
Drainage and sewerage has to be improved. Sidewalks are needed, though the PATH trail between Stone Mountain and Atlanta does cut through the CID.
Another task will be finding tenants who fit well into the smaller warehouses typical of their era.
“Movie production companies already use the area, and we want to cultivate this type of use in our economic development plan,” Morsberger said.
Still, streetscapes and security have been the top priorities of the past seven months. Highlights include:
- The CID’s security patrols have apprehended copper thieves in the act of stealing;
- Illegal placards have been stripped from utility polls;
- Trash and rubble has been swept from streets;
- Curb-appeal has been boosted by removing overgrown landscaping, repairing broken guardrails, and preparing for the installation of mast arms at intersections to replace unsightly wire-hung traffic lights.
Many managers of area businesses say they feel hopeful that their corner of the world is on the upswing.
“The CID is lifting up the spirits of the neighborhood,” said Roxanne Armes, manager of the Stars and Strikes bowling and entertainment center. “It helps the businesses get to know each other. We’re a family-oriented business, and the CID helps us get our message out.”
Morsberger urged DeKalb County’s Board of Commissioners to create the CID in July 2011, and he was hired that month as its president. The CID flanks Mountain Industrial Boulevard, a north-south arterial that serves a district of warehouses and light manufacturing plants that date to the 1960s. The CID is just east of I-285, at U.S. 78.
Members include a beer distributor, a company that manufacturers compressors, and a company that makes “MREs” for the military – meals ready to eat. The DeKalb County school system has two high schools and its headquarters in the CID.
Fodac is based there, restoring donated medical devices such as wheelchairs, scooters, bathroom aids and hospital beds, and distributing them at little or no cost to tens of thousands of needy recipients. Just in terms of wheelchairs, Fodac has provided more than 25,000.
Morsberger described Fodac as the Atlanta Community Food Bank for disabled adults and children, a description its president said is accurate. The CID has made life easier for Fodac, said President Chris Brand.
“The CID has been great because of the increased security for our thrift store, and to keep our building from being vandalized or broken into,” Brand said. “Or from having the A/C stolen off the roof, like happened down the road.”
Morsberger appears to relish the challenge of retooling an aged industrial park. The park presents the same kind of “good bones” he sought when he was redeveloping old buildings for modern homes, offices and commercial uses.
Morsberger, remember, has a long history of projects that were innovative and represented the wave of adaptive reuse that was sweeping the region in the 2000s.
Morsberger was on the brink of buying the old City Hall East for redevelopment, just as the recession crashed on the local real estate market. He promoted the expansion of Atlanta’s Downtown Ambassador Force to help secure the area south of MARTA’s Five Points Station, at a time when he controlled the old C&S Bank building. He promoted the “Brain Train” commuter rail that was to link university complexes in Athens and Atlanta. He purchased and refurbished many old storefronts around the Lawrenceville Square.
Morsberger’s views his biggest success as the creation of the Gwinnett Village CID, which has secured and beautified the Norcross area along I-85 from the DeKalb County line, across Jimmy Carter Boulevard to Beaver Ruin Road.
Through the Stone Mountain CID, Morsberger has found a way to rejuvenate his trademark remark. Asked how he is and how the CID is going, Morsberger responds: