In her 30 years of living in Auburn, Mayor Linda Blechinger has been captivated by the open land south of Atlanta Highway that will be the site of the city’s future municipal complex.
“I’ve always admired it and loved it. I’ve always looked at the beautiful, rolling hills and the beautiful tree canopy and really never thought in my wildest dreams we’d be standing here today,” Blechinger said as she presided over a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new complex on Wednesday, Oct. 14. — a day that officials called “momentous” for the city.
“This is more than 10 years’ worth of us dreaming, brainstorming, praying, planning, and having lots and lots of public meetings,” Blechinger said.
The complex will be a relocation of city hall and the police department headquarters across Atlanta Highway and the CSX railroad tracks and to the east, which city administrator Alex Mitchem said will help the city fulfill a longstanding Department of Homeland Security recommendation for moving police operations further away from railroad tracks and help the city provide the public with more efficient services.
The complex, which is expected to be completed in early 2022, will be a replica of the Perry Rainey Institute — a college that housed students from 1902 to the 1940s — and is part of what is planned to eventually be a town center-type, mixed-use development with dozens of single-family detached houses and townhomes, a brewpub and other potential businesses.
Dave Schmit, the project’s master developer who was hired by the city in 2017 to help officials come up with the vision for the project, said the municipal complex will be the focal point of the development and be situated on top of the hill, essentially positioned as the high ground for the city.
The city purchased the property from the Hawthorne family with special-purpose local-option sales tax proceeds, and the municipal complex portion currently has an estimated price tag of $12.25 million. Construction will be paid for through with up to $12.5 million in urban redevelopment agency bonds, with the Auburn Downtown Development Authority serving as the financing conduit. The loan, which is for 30 years at a 1.7-percent interest rate, will then be repaid by the city, primarily with future SPLOST proceeds in the amount of $630,000 per year.
Mitchem said the DDA is instrumental in the project because of the financing flexibility it provides.
“Projects like this are tiring, but they’re also inspiring,” DDA chair Bel Outwater said. “It takes a lot of foresight to balance preserving history and small-town charm with modernization and progress. As we navigate the future, we want to stay true to who we are and honor our roots while providing our CitiZens with the best in services, business and entertainment.”