Developer: downtown is making great strides

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 8, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

If downtown revitalization is a football game, Mickey H. Garcia is Suffolk’s star quarterback.

The owner of Garcia Development LLC is one of a handful of developers who have made significant investments in Suffolk’s downtown over the last three years, beginning with the 2002 purchase of College Court. Over the next two years, he and former partner Trevor Spiers restored and resold seven circa-1914 bungalows in the historic North Main Street community


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That was just the first of multiple historic residential and commercial investments Garcia, 34, has made in Suffolk. In the last 60 days alone, the 34-year-old developer – who specializes in the restoration of historic properties – has purchased five single-family homes and six commercial places in Suffolk.

He plans to turn one of the commercial sites into loft apartments and a restaurant on East Washington Street, near the city’s $10 million urban renewal Fairgrounds project.

He is restoring another commercial property on West Washington, the former Crystal Restaurant, for a Mexican cantina.

&uot;Suffolk is fixing to explode,&uot; Garcia said. &uot;It’s on the launch pad right now. If you are a developer looking at growth projections, you realize you just can’t lose.&uot;

Garcia is one of a handful of developers – including Deme Panagopoulos, John Brown, Chip Wirth and Buddy Gaddams – who are on the team that is shaping the future of downtown Suffolk with their investments.

&uot;Typically, what happens is developers pick up the ball and start running down the field,&uot; said Garcia. &uot;Then homeowners and business owners will come in, take over and eventually push us out.

&uot;We all win when things start happening without the developers. That’s when the whole city wins the Super Bowl.&uot;

That won’t take long, when you look at the pace at which the city is moving forward on its downtown revitalization plan, he added.

The plan, implemented in 1998, set several major milestones to accomplish over the next decade, including: renovating the former Suffolk High School into a cultural arts center, building a hotel and conference center on Constant’s Wharf, restoration of the Professional Building,

building a police precinct on East Washington, and the Fairgrounds project.

&uot;We’re actually way ahead of the game,&uot; he said. &uot;The city is six years into its 10-year downtown plan and everything has basically been done or is in the works.&uot;

Although many longtime residents still don’t seem to believe in the plan, Garcia insists that the plan has already proven to be the key to Suffolk’s future.

&uot;That plan is everything,&uot; he said. &uot;The plan needs to happen. It is impacting the future of our entire city.&uot;

The plan, coupled with the successful work of downtown development coordinator Elizabeth McCoury, is part is what keeps drawing new investors to downtown Suffolk, according to Garcia.

&uot;She is the umbilical cord for downtown Suffolk,&uot; he said. &uot;She is the road we take to get things done down here.&uot;

While Garcia is content with the quality of businesses moving in downtown, he is concerned over the growing number of speculators, particularly along the East Washington Street corridor.

&uot;That is a big concern,&uot; he said. &uot;Oftentimes they will half-way fix something up and put it on the market or else they will rent it out. Then absentee landlords will become a problem.&uot;

Of all the projects under way in the downtown community, the Suffolk Center for the Cultural Arts is the most critical to the success downtown revitalization, he said.

&uot;That is going to be the glue that holds it all together and if it’s done right, its economic impact on the city is going to be phenomenal,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s going to be bringing a whole new set of eyes to a new downtown Suffolk.&uot;

Garcia took his real estate expertise to a new level in January when he was appointed to the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Initially a bit hesitant because of potential conflicts should he decide to invest in the Fairgrounds project, Garcia says he is glad he accepted the challenge.

&uot;I felt like I had to look at the big picture to see where I could help Suffolk the most,&uot; Garcia said. &uot;I’m for doing whatever brings people to Suffolk.&uot;

Although there may have been past strife between the city and the authority, Garcia believes it is history.

&uot;The current situation couldn’t be better,&uot; he said. &uot;Clarissa McAdoo is going a great job and the board has the unanimous intent to make things happen and keep folks focused.

Garcia got interested in real estate after building his first house in Carrollton, Ga., while attending State University of West Georgia in the early 1990s.

&uot;I built a house for $42,000 and sold it for $80,000,&uot; he said. &uot;And I was hooked.&uot;

He and his wife, Kelli, and their son, Tommy, 3, live in one of the College Court homes that Garcia has restored. The couple is expecting their second child, a daughter, within the next few days.