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$1.9B Gulch vote pegged for Monday, as Fortune 500 company threatens to walk

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But the proposal might still lack the necessary Atlanta City Council support

Railroad company Norfolk Southern has threatened to take its HQ plans elsewhere if the Gulch project doesn’t move forward soon.
Curbed Atlanta

An Atlanta City Council meeting scheduled for Monday could help steer the future of downtown.

That’s when councilmembers are—once again—expected to vote on the ever-controversial development agreement that would provide nearly $2 billion in public financing to developer CIM Group, which wants to fill the Gulch with a mini-city.

In order to secure that funding, the Los Angeles-based company would need to bring some $5 billion in development—think office buildings, hotels, residences, and retail—to the long-festering pit of parking lots and railroad tracks.

The problem, however, is that—yet again—the council might not have the eight “Yes” votes needed to push the project along, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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

After weeks of debate over the particulars of the development deal and questions about who will benefit most from it—the developer or Atlantans—a revised agreement was unveiled last week.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, in a letter to Council President Felicia Moore, said the new deal reduces the burden on taxpayers and lacks a controversial extension of the Westside Tax Allocation District that some believe would hurt the Atlanta Public Schools system.

“The newly negotiated agreements reflect a dramatic decrease in the Tax Allocation Bond portion from $625 million to $40 million,” she wrote.

What’s not so blatant, as the AJC points out, is that the revised deal would shrink $125 million in bond funding for nearby Westside neighborhoods to roughly $8 million.

There’s also a new “pay as you go” requirement for Tax Allocation District supplemental payments, Bottoms wrote, adding: “This structure reinforces our goal of minimizing and reducing all risks to the City of Atlanta”

And though the revised agreement beefed up the incentives package to $1.9 billion—with a relaxed dependence on bonding—it also requires that all requests of reimbursement of expenses to be “verified by an independent agent obtained by Invest Atlanta.”

The new proposal also includes some community benefits, such as a contribution of $28 million that will go to an affordable housing trust fund, although opponents of the deal say the roughly 200 apartments that arrangement could help bring wouldn’t be enough.

An activist organization called Red Light the Gulch—a play on Bottoms’s calls to “Green-light the Gulch”—has been lobbying to halt the project until the deal can be properly vetted and reworked by an independent third party.

But now, Virginia-based Fortune 500 railroad company Norfolk Southern said the project needs to chug along.

And soon.

Norfolk Southern, which owns a chunk of Gulch property that it hopes to sell after the deal is approved, has been considering relocating its headquarters to Atlanta.

But according to another report by the ABC, the company will take its business elsewhere if the development agreement isn’t approved during the Monday council meeting.

So when it comes to the Gulch’s fate, time is of the essence more than ever.


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