Pete Pyrzenski has one particularly valuable trait. The new Commerce city manager is an optimist.
“I think 2013 is going to bring a lot of good news for us,” he said. “I don’t see how it couldn’t.”
Since he was hired in October, Pyrzenski’s focus has been on laying the groundwork for great things to happen, from a staff reorganization designed to free up revenue that can better be spent elsewhere to cleaning up the city’s appearance through code enforcement.
One of those priorities as a new year dawns is on economic development — bringing in new businesses and industries to provide tax base, expand utility sales and offer jobs. Pyrzenski believes Commerce is poised for major improvements.
The city is in the process of being certified as an “opportunity zone,” which will provide state tax incentives to businesses locating in or expanding in most of the commercial districts. In addition, the Georgia Municipal Association will push in the upcoming legislative session what it calls the Downtown Renaissance program, another tax incentive based initiative.
“Property owners and businesses could reap a lot of incentives for interest in downtown areas,” Pyrzenski points out. “It’s a perfect complement to what’s already in place — getting more and more real interest in downtowns and the buildings. Someone could take major advantage of this. I think the bill will pass.”
It might even help move the Oxford building, the manager speculated.
“The city is in a position to do a real significant public-private partnership with a building of that scope,” he said.
He sees the possibility of someone creating housing — whether a “mini-motel,” an extended stay facility or apartments — in the upper floors and professional offices or restaurants on the bottom. The proximity of the Commerce Civic Center, its meeting rooms and its abundant parking could help sell the concept.
Then there’s industry. Pyrzenski is mindful of the still vacant Rooker building at the Commerce 85 Business Park and of the loss of gas system revenue after the shutdown of the Louisiana Pacific oriented strand board plant in Center.
“Commerce is unique in that it has four enterprise funds that have revenue and expenses,” he explained. “We have to delicately balance the revenue funds… We have to focus on replacing LP and I have to work hard on getting more gas customers to replace and stabilize that revenue stream.”
Pyrzenski promises that Commerce will highlight its utility “one-stop shop” in competing for industry.
“We have not only the incentives, but the resources — natural gas and electric — and we can look at other areas we can possibly help with. Add a sound ISO rating, we have police protection, the stability of the local community and together it’s very attractive,” he said.
Midway through 2013 — when the next budget year begins — Pyrzenski hopes to hire a “community improvement director” to lead the city’s economic development efforts.
Meanwhile, other projects are scheduled to occur during 2013.
One is the construction of a sidewalk along the southeast side of Jefferson Road from Commerce Middle School to Lakeview Drive.
Funded by a federal grant already in hand and with the engineering done, the project can begin once right of way issues are resolved, Pyrzenski said.
A community development block grant will fund most of a major sewer rehabilitation project in the Spring Street area. Old lines will be replaced, including service lines to the edges of private property, and Pyrzenski said he’ll seek authority to replace worn out or compromised water lines and fire plugs encountered as that project unfolds.
Another project is winding down. Pyrzenski said as of last Friday that the repairs to the roof of the Commerce Civic Center were 80-90 percent completed.
“It’s all white up there,” he said of the roof, which is being coated with a sealant, “so it’s very interesting to look at. This application has been very successful on old flat roofs, not only with the reflective factor (which saves energy), but the sealing it provides. I think the technology will pay off for us.”
City Retreat To Be Held Soon
Those issues and others will be subjects of conversation when the city holds a planning retreat. The date and place have not been set, but Pyrzensky said he’s in the process of gathering the facts related to the goals proposed by the mayor and city council.
The recent reorganization of city staff is expected to give Pyrzenski more wiggle room financially to help implement the changes he foresees and to work on priorities set down by the mayor and council. It should also be a boost to efforts to market city services and programs.
For example, the Downtown Development Authority, recreation department, City Hall and the library now coordinate events. The recreation department maintains a calendar of events on its web site that also covers the DDA, library and civic center, and city clerk Sandra Haggard sends out a monthly newsletter with utility bills.