MORSBERGER: Community improvement, ever more

In the midst of public debate, it’s easy to lose focus on the core values that make a positive difference in the lives of people. Community Improvement Districts were created to empower commercial property owners to plan and pay for immediate improvements like traffic safety, landscaping, security, and the removal of graffiti and litter. They seek to nurture long-term strategic initiatives for transportation, economic development and revitalization. As the Daily Post recently opined, CIDs should improve their communities.

In the 1980s, we witnessed the birth of the CID model here in the Atlanta region. In 2002, I was fortunate to be part of the team that founded the U.S. Highway 78 CID, which we later re-branded as the Evermore Community Improvement District. Our goal then, and now, was to improve the quality of life and raise the property values along the U.S. 78 corridor from Stone Mountain to Snellville. People quickly caught onto the positive vision, the energy and the endless possibilities derived from joining together and working for the common good.

Other Gwinnett CIDs soon followed at Gwinnett Place, Gwinnett Village and Lilburn. All four of these CIDs have turned into workhorses for the turnaround and improvement of communities vital to Gwinnett County.

Evermore took some giant strides with our $60 million “extreme makeover” of U.S. 78, our parallel road projects, inter-parcel connections, the Yellow River pedestrian bridge and sewer improvements. Soon after the formation of the CID, our board was able to secure more than $10 million for road projects, landscaping, street lighting and safety improvements for the entire corridor.

We won several Atlanta Regional Commission grants over the past five years, exceeding $300,000. We secured two of Gwinnett’s five tax allocation districts. Evermore was recently selected to receive a $1.2 million combined financing package from the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank and the State Road and Tollway Authority for critically important transportation projects.

Recently, Evermore has forged a bold plan to revitalize the gateway to the corridor. Using the Park Place TAD as a catalyst, the initiative has already attracted private sector partners interested in transforming the Olympic tennis stadium into a multi-purpose arena, adding a multi-modal transit hub, attracting an international tennis academy and locating an Olympic sports training facility in the former SuperTarget building.

This Stone Mountain Athletic and Recreational Training Center would attract a community of world-class athletes and become a catalyst for the redevelopment of the Evermore gateway into a mixed-use sports village that would include upscale retail, office and residential development. Wouldn’t it be a crime to let this exciting initiative die?

Over the last two years, we have taken our eyes off the prize as we became embroiled in personal disputes. Two executive directors, two recalled board members and an economic development director were casualties, but the property owners and businesses along the corridor were the real losers. I’m reminded of the story of Solomon and the two women who each claimed the same child. One would have had it split in two, rather than relinquish her claim. But, the one who truly loved that child would have given it up rather than see it perish.

Let’s return to our core mission! Why should anyone care about personal differences when the life of the organization, along with all of our hopes and our dreams for the future, hang in the balance? Isn’t it time for new blood, new brains and fresh ideas? I call on all of the Evermore board members to lay down whatever personal pride, ambition or ownership claims they may have so the organization we created can live.

All members of the Evermore board should simultaneously retire with honor. None of us should seek to stage a “comeback” win with so much at stake. We should all relinquish whatever electors that are pledged to us. It is time to let go of all posturing and all pretenses. Let our interim executive director, Wayne Hill, care for the organization, its initiatives, and goals until a complete new board is selected and installed. We gave this incredible Evermore Community Improvement District its life. Let’s entrust it to the voters. Let’s pass the torch to a new board that will love it and lead it to prosper. Let’s let it live, ever more.

Emory Morsberger is chariman of the board for the Evermore Community Improvement District.