My name is Roger Riddle (That's me on the right). I am the Marketing Director for the Moonhanger Group which manages The Rookery, The Armory Ballroom, and our newest restaurant, Dovetail.
I consider myself very lucky in that I am surrounded by a very talented group of people: from our very creative chefs and cooking staff, to our bartenders, to our servers, to our management team. I am also lucky that I suffer the benefits of many tastings, informed suggestions, and funny, thought provoking conversations.
I also meet a lot of people. I sit down to a lot of dinners and have great conversations on a myriad of subjects. Since it would be down right stingy not to introduce you to these people and share the great conversations I have, I decided to start the Moonhanger Group blog. This blog will be a mixture of conversations, recipes, podcasts and more.
Recently, I was joined for dinner at Dovetail by Chris Floore, the Director of Public Affairs for the city of Macon. Floore and I have been friends for years now, ever since he first moved to Macon. He studied journalism at the University of South Carolina (making him a Game Cocks fan) and from 2006 to 2011 worked in Public Relations with the Bibb County School District. He and his wife, Olena Floore, recently added another Floore to the family 6 weeks ago with the very happy addition of their first child, Nikolai Conner Floore.
Floore joined me after a long session of presentations in committee with Macon's City Council. After our server, Michael Collins, explained the menu to us, I decided to start dinner off with a jab at his college sports affiliation.
RR: I think I am going to order the sea scallop small plate. It comes with UGA caviar. I'd split it with you but I don't know how you'd feel about UGA caviar.
CF: (Inspecting his lapel) My pin's not on. Where's my Carolina pin?
RR: What's really interesting about this caviar is, Dr. Doug Peterson, an associate professor at the Warnell School of Forestry And Natural Resources, has figured out how to farm raise Siberian sturgeon and collect its roe. About 98% of the caviar on the market is collected from wild sturgeon and it's beginning to hurt the sturgeon population. The 2% that is farm raised on the market comes from American white sturgeon not the preferred Siberian sturgeon. Past attempts to farm raise Siberian and Russian sturgeon to collect their roe has resulted in the caviar taking on a muddy taste. Peterson has figured out how to irrigate the farms using spring water from the North Georgia mountains and this makes the caviar of a higher quality. They're hoping that this new method will flip the percentage numbers over the next 10 years, with more caviar coming from farm raised sturgeon, allowing the wild sturgeon population to build back up.
CF: My wife will be excited. She loves caviar. Having grown up in eastern Europe and the Ukraine, it's abundant there. Where here, how expensive it is for a small jar, over there they would have it for breakfast. They spread it on bread. Because it was so abundant it was a staple of the Russian diet. She loves it but over here, we just can't afford it.
RR: Well, having it farm raised will also bring down the price of it.
Our server, Michael Collins, returned to the table to take our order. We decided to split the Put-Ups (not pictured) appetizer since Floore was a big fan of the Dovetail bacon marmalade. He chose the Rocking Chair Ranch Carpaccio. I chose the duck breast and the sea scallop. Then we began to delve into the city's redevelopment efforts.
CF: When you look at the redevelopment of a city, you have to figure out where the people are going to go. In Macon over the past 20 – 30 years you've seen, just as you have with any city, the core has emptied out for a more suburban model. I mean, I grew up in a suburb of Charleston. I didn't grow up downtown. It was way too expensive.
You and I both have seen Cherry Street, just in the last 8 years - and I've been here 9 years come February, which is shocking to me because I never expected the opportunity here. But the growth in our core has been amazing in my opinion. Now there's still a lot to go. There's places to eat downtown and you see there's a higher level of interest in the loft living with an increased growth beyond that. But what is it that the city can do, not just in the downtown area and urban core but across the city limits, that can incentivize people to open businesses, open extra locations, bring industry, doing development in areas that they may not have done before?
So we have three tools at our disposal: opportunity zones, enterprise zones, and tax allocation districts (TADs). Opportunity zones are more of a job tax credit. Enterprise zones have tax incentives for development. What we started to do tonight is an extension of current a tax allocation district. A tax allocation district looks at a designated area and freezes the property taxes at that level. So the property owners still continue to pay that level. If a private investment comes in, redevelops the property and the property taxes go up, that incremental increase goes back into a special fund which has to be used for public infrastructure in that area. So the benefit is to say, you invest your money here. If your property taxes go up, you still have to pay them, but you know that that incremental increase is going back into improving the area that you've put your business.
So we've got one at the Bibb Mills site across from the Mariott and the Centreplex. So what do you want there? Do you want mixed use development? Do you want another hotel? Do you want shopping to go along with the convention center? That whole property is under a TAD.
You've got a TAD along the Renaissance On The River. The big empty property on Riverside Drive behind the Burger King. Between the Burger King and Second Street.
RR: For awhile I had heard that someone had been looking at putting condominiums in that area. Is that it?
CF: Condos, lofts, shopping, eating – mixed-use development. That site has been looked at since at least 2002, that we can determine but what's been the barrier is there used to be a Macon Transit Authority shop there as well as a city Central Services Department building. Two big buildings. That was kind of the hold up. You have this big property with these two public buildings.
In the past two to three weeks we've finalized the move of Central Services into a new building on Seventh Street. The MTA building was torn down a couple of years ago. So that opens up the whole property. Working through the Urban Development Authority they can now market that property. There's already a plan in place to make it something called Renaissance On The River mixed use property, which will increase the tax base. And whatever that incremental increase is will go back into public infrastructure. Now we don't know what that infrastructure looks like until the plan is finalized and they get the financing. It could be roads. It could be sewers. Whatever matches along with that plan.
So what we were trying to do this evening was, there is a TAD along Second Street right now to revitalize some of those empty buildings and empty lots going down Second Street past Poplar. It goes up about two or three blocks. We want to extend it up Little Richard Penniman Blvd to include properties opposite of Mercer because we know that there's interest in private development opposite some of what Mercer has been doing. Historic Hills & Heights is looking at getting into that area with some of their home programs. That's their next step after they work on the area they're in. They indicated that that's where they want to go next.
RR: That's really good news.
CF: They've been doing great work where they are. Instead of doing a haphazard piece they are trying to do a focused work. And then we also know that Mercer and the school district working for their Macon Promise neighborhood, which is only a couple of blocks over from the extension of this TAD. So you've go interest in improving this whole neighborhood and this is one way for the city to put an incentive in place to bring in business, bring in improvements.
As we wrapped up this part of the conversation, our first course arrived and we began talking beer, food and entertainment in Macon. You can continue the conversation with us in the up coming podcast.