Rome has sought to grow its historic downtown business district for decades. Natural obstacles inhibited that growth until recently, when Rome initiated a concerted effort to develop the community on the west bank of the Oostanaula River.
A huge swath of land, including West Third Street and North Fifth Avenue, was included in the city’s first Tax Allocation District Redevelopment Area in 2005. Tax Allocation District financial packages allow developers to recoup a portion of their investment through what amounts to a tax rebate over a specific number of years.
Though the district was created in 2005, the first project to receive assistance was the Courtyard by Marriott in December 2018. River City Bank was the first major new project on West Third Street, replacing the old Rome Feed & Seed Building at the corner of Second Avenue and West Third Street.
Years later, the Courtyard by Marriott was completed. Now, perhaps the largest and most ambitious effort yet, a mixed-use residential and retail development is underway between the Marriott and the old buildings that line North Fifth Avenue.
In 2019, a group out of Atlanta (originally called CRE IMPACT River Arts District LLC) was selected to develop the area. Their vision is beginning to come to life. Owner Jeff Warwick said that he had come to Rome to visit friends who were building a home here and fell in love with the town. “I like that it’s not right on the Interstate,” Warwick said. “The more I learned about the city’s vision for the River District, the more I thought maybe I could help, maybe I could do something different.”
He raised private equity funds, including an Opportunity Zone Fund. Opportunity Zones are economic development tools that allow people to invest in a distressed zone and temporarily defer taxes on eligible gains by investing in a qualified Opportunity Fund.
In addition to the tax advantages of the Opportunity Zone designation, the group now known as NOVA is seeking $14 million in Tax Allocation District financial assistance through the year 2035. The TAD would allow the investors to recoup some of the property taxes based on the increased value of the property.
The developers have acquired 11 parcels totaling 6.4 acres. Several old commercial buildings in varying stages of disrepair were demolished, and three buildings that have been considered historic have been preserved. Site work for the project, a mixed-use retail and residential development called Nova River District, is well underway.
The most recent plan for the project includes 250 multifamily residences, 10,000 square feet of retail space, and a two-acre park in Phase 1, between West Third Street and the Oostanaula River levee. The plans for the site have changed several times since Warwick’s group got the contract with the city. “We started this project and the ideas around it pre-COVID and pre-inflation,” Warwick said. “I think we’ve thrived through it in many ways because we’ve designed something better than when we started.” Nearly three-fourths of the apartments will be one-bedroom units.
The developers have also acquired parcels on the west side of West Third Street for redevelopment opportunities in the future. Vertical construction should begin during the fourth quarter of this year, with completion anticipated in 18-24 months.
“NOVA is in a prime location on the river downtown and will aim to transform the area into a place people want to both live and visit,” said Rome City Manager Sammy Rich. “The project will feature multifamily residences, a 2-acre park, as well as onsite retail opportunities”. The park will create another new amenity along the riverfront that could allow for access to bike rental space, art installations, and other programming to attract visitors.
Rich is also excited about the NOVA project because of the direct access afforded residents and visitors to the ECO Greenway, the city’s 16-mile multi-purpose trail system that connects the River District to other community areas like Berry College and AdventHealth Stadium.