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Mayors speak at State of the Cities

POSTED: February 23, 2014 9:42 p.m.

The 2014 State of the Cities program had three Barrow County mayors discuss the progress made over the last year and some of their plans for the future.
Auburn—Mayor Linda Blechinger said she was pleased having 31 new businesses in 2013. Also an Opportunity Zone designation has created 88 new jobs and reduced commercial vacancy from 12 percent to 5 percent over the last year.
“You can see we are thriving and growing,” Blechinger said during last week’s event hosted by the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce.
A major project for the city remains building a reservoir that would provide water to Auburn and Winder residents. The project is currently in the design stage.
“Right now we have a big hole in the ground and we want to put that to use and provide water for our citizens,” Blechinger said.
The city still is working towards the Gateway Plaza project towards cyclists, and this summer, will have the groundbreaking for its Autry Pines Senior Village. The developer of the apartment complex was awarded tax credits that cleared the way for the development.
“The builder came in and asked ‘what is that you will look for that’s different from other places’ and we asked for (raised garden beds) and a walking trail and they’re going to incorporate that,” Blechinger said.
The city also took in the largest amount of sales tax revenue since 2008.
“We are in great financial condition,” Blechinger said. “This is the reason it is so important to shop locally because it affects our cities and counties.”
Statham—The city has turned its focus this year towards economic development, Mayor Robert Bridges said as last week’s luncheon.
“We think in Statham we have the ideal place for economic development and we’re going to be pushing that,” he said.
Three business districts offer unique opportunities for development. The largest is a three mile stretch along University Parkway that’s highly visible and prime for growth, Bridges said.
That district also includes a proposed 360-acre development that city officials have said they hope brings in companies and new housing. The other districts are the historic downtown and around Atlanta Highway.
“We have great opportunities for all kinds of businesses coming in,” he said.
The city also supports potential Tax-Allocation Districts and Community Improvement Districts that could improve development.
“Our city council is pro-growth and they see the opportunities out there,” he said.
The addition of Bear Creek Middle School in 2013 has been positive for the city.  
The city also has a strong water system.
“Some day we may annex more land, but right now we feel like we are taking on what we can,” Bridges said.
Winder—When the downtown streetscape project is completed this year Mayor David Maynard said he’s hopeful it leads to a renaissance.
“With that project finishing up and the county moving into offices downtown and the new restaurant opening up—I hope the  downtown area will begin the thrive again,” Maynard said.
In 2013 businesses like Hardees, Turtle Creek Wine and Spirits, LongHorn Steakhouse, and Wendy’s opened in Winder and at least two more restaurants will open this year.  Also, residential building permits went from 0 in 2011 to 24 for 2013.
Maynard also highlighted accomplishments of departments like when the water department received a statewide honor for its work.
Winder’s ability to get water is improving now with the ability to withdraw more water from Ft. Yargo in emergency situations and with the city working with Auburn on the new reservoir.
Maynard also spoke about the ups and downs the Winder Police Department faced last year.  Officers and other staff moved into a new facility and more attention to code violations led to an increase of 87 percent in 2013.
The department went through the loss of some top leaders because of scandal, but is moving forward, Maynard said.
The plan is to have a new chief in place in the next six weeks.
“Maj. (Jim) Fullington has done an excellent job as interim chief at a time when we needed someone to do an excellent job,” Maynard said.
This year there are plans to renovate Fire Station 1 and likely build a new fire station, which will likely be located on the north side of Winder.
The city has also ramped up being more visible.
 “Our marketing and media relations department has been working hard to begin branding our city and promoting all the great things Winder has to offer,” Maynard said.



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