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Atlanta City Council shoots down Gulch deal’s independent review. Now what?

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Some activists want to “Redlight the Gulch” project for the sake of equity

Downtown Atlanta’s horrible Gulch, in photos.
The Gulch clearly needs an upgrade, but some councilmembers don’t want to rush it.
Jonathan Philips, Curbed Atlanta

As Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms urged city councilmembers to “Green-light The Gulch” development deal, both local leaders and constituents alike became concerned that the multi-billion downtown project was being rushed.

So, rather than bring the 600-plus-page development agreement—which would pave the way for major public funding incentives for developer CIM Group—to a council vote, some councilmembers sought to establish a third-party audit of the document.

However, during Monday’s city council meeting, the legislation failed to pass, lacking the eight “yes” votes needed to advance the plan.

The legislation calling for the independent review scored six yeas and five nays, according to a city press release:

“Councilmembers Matt Westmoreland, Amir Farokhi, Jennifer Ide, J.P. Matzigkeit, Natalyn Archibong, and Dustin Hillis voted in favor of the resolution,” per the statement. “Councilmembers Andrea Boone, Marci Collier Overstreet, Cleta Winslow, Carla Smith, and Joyce Sheperd voted against it.”

Some leaders who want to see the Gulch project green-lit, such as Councilwoman Cleta Winslow, suggest that delaying the deal jeopardizes the city’s relationship with CIM Group, the Los Angeles-based developer planning to build a mini-city from the 40-acre urban divot.

“This is a major quality development project that has also been thoroughly reviewed, and to slow it down with a request for [outside] review simply tells the developer, ‘Hey, we don’t want you. Go somewhere else,’” said Winslow.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber has also recently announced its support for the Gulch plans and urged councilmembers to usher the deal along, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The overarching Gulch vision, complete with new construction aplenty.
The sparkling vision of what the Gulch could become with CIM Group’s help.
Rendering courtesy of CIM Group; designs, Perkins + Will

Nonetheless, plenty of community activists are vying to “Redlight the Gulch” deal—or at least pump the brakes while officials take a microscope to the development agreement.

Advocacy group Housing Justice League lobbied against the proposal at Atlanta City Hall this week and is planning its own town hall meeting Thursday to explain to citizens why they should be wary of the fast-moving deal.

“As our city continues to grow, we know that development will happen,” Housing Justice League members wrote on the Facebook event page. “We also understand that if we want to live in a city that is equitable for all, then we must have responsible, transparent development that includes everyone from every spectrum. There is a precedent that has been set in this city that gives benefits to developers and not communities.”

If CIM Group is able to fulfill its commitment to produce between $3 billion and $5 billion in new development in the Gulch, the current development deal could yield the company $1 billion or more in public finding.

That, according to Housing Justice League, is what’s called a giveaway.

“When the public is putting in as much as 40 percent of the cost to develop a private, commercial project, the public should own 40 percent of it,” the group posted. “Instead, we will own nothing. The only explanation for this grotesque imbalance of advantage is CIM’s Abject Greed.”

Activists from Housing Justice League and other likeminded groups also wonder why Bottoms hasn’t lobbied for a legally binding Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the mammoth development deal.

As they’ve pointed out, when she was on the campaign trail, Bottoms said, “I do support a CBA when there are public dollars being used to help finance a project,” according to a video shared by ThreadATL.

Housing Justice League’s town hall meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the First Iconium Baptist Church on Moreland Avenue.

Meanwhile, the city council could vote on the CIM development deal during an October 15 regular meeting. As the AJC points out, Atlanta Public Schools and the Fulton County Commission would also have to approve of the proposal for it to move forward.

Metro Atlanta Chamber

235 Andrew Young International Blvd NW, Atlanta, GA 30303 Visit Website