LEESBURG – The city of Leesburg achieved a major milestone in officials’ efforts to revitalize and develop the downtown area this month when the city was recognized as a Rural Zone by the Department of Community Affairs.
“The city and the county have been working on downtown for a number of years,” Leesburg City Manager Bob Alexander said. “The city has taken down a number of buildings, and some private entities have taken down other dilapidated buildings. The county has fixed up the old Courthouse and the old hardware store that is now a secondary court. They have fixed up the old library.
“We have a what we call a TAP program, which is a Transportation Alternative Project, through GDOT. We received a $300,000 appropriation to do the engineering downtown, including beautification and landscaping. The county has partnered with us to pay the matching 20% fee required of us, with GDOT picking up the remaining 80%.”
Alexander explained that the city had applied for Rural Zone designation the year before and did not receive it.
“We rolled up our sleeves and I brought in Barbara Reddick, head of the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission, as a consultant, and she was very instrumental in assisting us in putting this together, so we have to give her credit,” the Leesburg city manager said.
To be eligible for the designation, cities and counties must: have a population less than 15,000; have a concentration of historic commercial structures at least 50 years old within the zone; prove economic distress based on poverty rate, vacancy of the downtown area, or blight; be in compliance with the state requirements regarding comprehensive planning and reporting; submit a feasibility study or make analysis identifying business activities that can be supported in the zone; and submit a master plan or strategic plan designed to assist private and public investment.
Mayor Billy Breeden commended the Leesburg City Commission and everyone that made the designation a reality. The designation will allow eligible developers and businesses to claim tax credits for activities occurring on or after Jan. 1, 2021. Alexander said that this includes Job Tax Credit: If a business operating in the DTA hires at least two new full-time employees, it can receive state tax credits. If an investor purchases property in the DTA, he or she can receive an Investment Credit. A Rehabilitation Credit is available for improvement of properties in the DTA.
“If they take full advantage of the five-year program, they can get close to $500,000 in tax credits,” Alexander said. “That’s a huge incentive for a developer and businesses to come in. We have a couple of folks coming in because of the incentive with the Rural Zone Designation.
“With this, along with the beautification project, we can completely remake our downtown. It’s really important because the soul of your community is your downtown and what it looks like. This is a wonderful thing for Leesburg and Lee County.”