By Tia Lynn Ivey managing editor
Madison’s most deteriorated entryway, the West Washington Gateway, is on the cusp of a full-on makeover, if the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is awarded a $1.6 state loan this May. Monica Callahan, director of planning for the city of Madison, presented the project to the Madison Mayor and City Council at the monthly regular meeting on Monday, April 10. The DDA has been preapproved for a 15-year Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) at an exceptionally low interest rate–.77 percent–in order to acquire the remaining eight parcels of property in the West Washington Gateway and then to clear the negative eyesores from the area and install expanded and upgraded infrastructure to facilitate future development in the City of Madison. While above ground will be fresh and clean, most of the work will be unseen underground, with the installation and replacement of piping and the creation of A wet pond to equip the area to retain more stormwater.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Callahan. “It’s the tipping point for the West Washington Gateway that we have all been hoping for.” Callahan noted that the area has been in various states of neglect and disrepair for over 20 years. If the DDA’s plan comes to fruition, Callahan anticipates the visual difference from what the West Washington Gateway is now to what it will become will be “dramatic.”
“It will be at least as impressive as the Town Park transformation,” said Callahan. GEFA is offering the to Madison at such a low interest rate because of the city’s PlanFirst designation, requiring that the money be used on improving water resources. “The funding is to clean up the water resources and as a side benefit, we are getting recreation and economic opportunities for the future.” But the opportunity comes at a risk to the DDA. If they get the loan, the organization’s debt service payments will $92,000, when their yearly budget from the City of Madison is $125,000. “If Doomsday happens, and the DDA sells no property, receives no donations, or is awarded no grants, then the DDA will be tied to this project and this project alone for the next 15 years. However, the DDA has never failed to bring in extra revenue through grants, lot sales, and donations, so the likelihood of that Doomsday scenario actually happening is zero.”
The West Washington Gateway is comprised of 40 acres, along West Washington Street, West Jefferson Street, Fifth Street and a new section of North Bull Street (formerly known as Town Walk Circle). After the DDA completes this project, which is anticipated to be by the end of 2018, the area will be tempting local for potential developers, according to Callahan. “We don’t know how long it will take to be developed, but once the entire area eventually sells and is developed, the tax base will increase to $15 million, up from $2 million.” “It’s all about infrastructure. It’s the most unsexy project you will ever hear about, but it will set the stage for the growth and future development of Madison.”