Opportunity zones create jobs

Georgia’s Opportunity Zone program was created in 2008. It is one tool, among others, to help local governments bring jobs back to neglected commercial and industrial areas. The program offers a $3,500 tax break per hire, for up to five years, to businesses that hire two or more full-time employees.

Two years ago, the city of Atlanta received approvals for its first opportunity zones. Since then, under the leadership of Mayor Kasim Reed, the city has received state approvals for 11.

Governments wishing to designate an area for this incentive must show that it is within or adjacent to census blocks with a 15-percent or higher poverty rate that already have an enterprise zone or redevelopment plan. In Atlanta, our development agency, Invest Atlanta, coordinates the application process.

As our national and regional economies regain their footing, Atlanta is smart to have teed up this tax incentive for small- and medium-size businesses that contribute so much to our economy.

At a recent press conference, Commissioner Mike Beatty of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs announced the Sweet Auburn corridor as the city’s newest opportunity zone. The corridor, in the district I represent, joins previously designated areas including downtown, Midtown, Fort McPherson and the former City Hall East (now Ponce City Market).

Designation of the Auburn-Edgewood corridor is one of a number of initiatives we are putting in place to prepare for the arrival of the streetcar, which will link Centennial Olympic Park and the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights to the neighborhood that raised Martin Luther King Jr.

Last year, we announced the formation of a Main Street program for the area in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Sweet Auburn Works will help attract public and private investment for historic façade renovations and streetscape improvements. We are recruiting the inaugural board of directors for the organization.

On April 23, we will launch a six-month process to update existing zoning regulations for the commercial portion of the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District. They have not been updated since the district was created 30 years ago. The process will enable us to review recent redevelopment plans for the area, identify gaps between the plans’ vision and existing guidelines, and consider contemporary business uses for historic storefronts and buildings, uses that did not exist when the guidelines were originally created.

For business owners and prospective business owners to take advantage of this tax credit, they have to be aware of its existence. It is my job to work with the city and Invest Atlanta to spread the word at neighborhood meetings, ribbon-cutting ceremonies and walking tours with business organizations and in communications to constituents.

I welcome opportunity zones to the city as a tool for existing local businesses and owners looking for signs the state and city stand with them. As the economy improves, the program will help existing small- and-medium-size businesses such as the Epsten Group, a mid-sized architectural firm on Edgewood Avenue, look to the future. The designation itself will bring new attention, followed by investment, to key properties and corridors that are poised to become participants in our city.

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall represents District 2.

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