Atlanta City Council to consider measures to rebuild the Gulch with tax breaks

By Maggie Lee

Atlanta City Council is wading into some proposals about if to allocate (and millions and millions) of tax dollars to private developers to try and encourage building in a pair of special zones on either side of the Connector. Ground zero is Downtown’s Gulch.

One thing Council is considering are “tax allocation districts.” In those areas, a city agency borrows money to partially subsidize projects as big as the Underground redevelopment or as small as a mom and pop rehabbing their one storefront.

the gulch

A view of the Gulch with Philips Arena in the background (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

For fans, the point is to attract more property-tax paying businesses and residents to an area. When all goes to plan, the bonds are paid off with the incremental subsequent rise in taxable property value in that footprint.  The result is jobs, buildings and vitality.

For critics, there’s always the question of whether a given developer or rehabber wouldn’t come to an area anyway, even without the subsidy.

And with TADs come policy questions, like what public benefits should developers provide and when to declare an area “revitalized” and close its TAD.

Atlanta City Council members will be considering questions like that over the next week and more, with several pieces of tax legislation in front of them.

On one side of the Connector, there’s some legislation that would tap funds from a Westside TAD extended by 10 years to 2048 to help subsidize a major redo of the Gulch. Another piece of legislation would give a sales tax exemption to that proposed Gulch development by the CIM Group. It’s a development big enough, by the way, to house Amazon, were the company to choose Atlanta in its search for a second headquarters.

Bond money generated for the Gulch redo would thus come to more than $1 billion, mostly from those two sources, according to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ office.

“At roughly the equivalent of thirty football fields, this will be the largest development of its kind in Atlanta’s history and in the entire southeast,” said Bottoms in the statement. “Our administration is proud to help make this a reality.”

With an opposing point of view is Julian Bene, a member of the board of Atlanta’s development agency. He said he’s seen information about the proposed Gulch development, and that from what he saw, the benefits outlined by the developer are “a bit of an insult to all our intelligence.”

A proposed 200 units of affordable housing for a development that he thinks will actually get about $2 billion in incentives once all jurisdictions are counted, he said is “ridiculous.”

At a Tuesday meeting, Atlanta City Council’s Community Development and Human Services Committee delayed action on those several pieces of Gulch legislation at least until a TAD work session scheduled for Tuesday.

The Committee did approve a different TAD ordinance: one that requests Invest Atlanta to reactivate the Eastside TAD and to submit a list of entities that have applied to the city’s development authority for Eastside TAD funding since January last year. In summer 2017, a note appeared on IA’s website saying that no applications for funding would be accepted until further notice.

Then-Mayor Kasim Reed said that the Eastside TAD fund had worked and that it’s time to close it. But Council has never formally agreed to that assessment via any legislation and some people think its work isn’t done.

“This legislation is intended to say to Invest Atlanta, you can’t shut down the Eastside tad without a full vote of the council … until that day comes, it should be operating and funding projects in the TAD,” said Councilman Amir Farokhi, who brought the legislation.

Farokhi’s legislation now heads to the Council’s Finance/Executive Committee.

Care to watch a TAD discussion? The work session is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 21 at 9 a.m. at City Hall.

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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