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UPDATED: Proposed Gulch deal might suggest developer needs Amazon HQ2 to score (more) incentives

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Or at least something of a similar stature—if that even exists

Downtown Atlanta’s horrible Gulch, in photos.
Amazon or not, this place is going to look very different in years to come.
Jonathan Philips, Curbed Atlanta

The City of Atlanta is currently weighing and hammering out the particulars of a deal that would incentivize developer CIM Group to bring billions of dollars of new construction to downtown’s desolate Gulch.

If the Los Angeles-based company can execute $3 billion in development, in the form of a mini-city topping the Gulch, it could receive $900 million in public funding. Should the company bring $5 billion worth of new development, that incentive could leap to some $1.75 billion.

But, according to the proposed deal, it appears CIM Group might also need to bring in a mammoth company’s “secondary headquarters”—or a relocated HQ—in order to secure those more public funds, per paperwork that’s recently come to light.

To claim the additional incentives, as a tentative development agreement between the city and CIM Group appears to suggest, the developer would have to land what’s called a “Major Economic Development Opportunity.”

How it defines that opportunity sounds suspiciously like Amazon’s HQ2:

“‘Major Economic Development Opportunity’ means a development that is part of the [Gulch project] that anticipates the creation of at least 40,000 new full-time jobs and which relocates or creates a secondary headquarters for a company that has revenue in excess of $50 billion in the previous year,” per the tentative development agreement.

This, of course, leaves open the possibility that another company of Amazon’s stature—it racked up a reported $60 billion in revenue in the fourth quarter of 2017 alone—could play the role in CIM Group’s Gulch transformation.

But does such a behemoth exist?

Some reports say Norfolk Southern could be considering relocating its HQ in Atlanta. But as the Gulch agreement is written now, the railroad company wouldn’t fit the mold of “Major Economic Development Opportunity,” as it doesn’t bring in enough revenue each year to qualify as a “major” opportunity.

According to Atlanta City Council spokesman Dexter Chambers, who corroborated the above mentioned interpretation of the agreement, the tentative deal could be approved during Monday’s full council meeting.

Meanwhile, a special work session is scheduled for Thursday morning. During that meeting, the council’s Community Development/Human Services Committee plans to discuss the Gulch legislation.

Curbed Atlanta reached out to Councilmembers Matt Westmoreland, Natalyn Archibong, Amir Farokhi, Dustin Hillis, and Joyce Sheperd—all members of the aforementioned committee—asking for their interpretations of the deal. Many of them have a long list of questions regarding the proposed deal, which was given to them in a 600-page document Saturday.

Farokhi, for instance, said he doesn’t think the legislation implies that CIM Group must snag a “Major Economic Development Opportunity” in order to secure public funding incentives.

He told Curbed that he reads it as saying the developer would need to snag Amazon or a similarly large corporation in order to lobby for more public funds.

Curbed also contacted Invest Atlanta and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s office for comment. This story will be updated if more sources respond.

Bottoms has publicly called Amazon the elephant in the Gulch’s redevelopment room. But it’s worth nothing that another important player in the neighborhood—Atlanta Hawks’s owner Tony Ressler, the brother of CIM Group’s leader—is saying in no uncertain terms that Amazon’s second headquarters isn’t necessary to make the Gulch redo a success.

In a recent interview with the AJC, Ressler said the Gulch redevelopment, which neighbors his team’s arena, would proceed regardless of Amazon’s decision. Plans for a reborn Gulch were in motion about two years before Bezos and company announced the search for HQ2’s landing site, Ressler noted.

UPDATES: This story was updated on September 12, 2018 at 4:28 p.m. to include a remark from Councilman Amir Farokhi.

This story was updated on September 13, 2018 at 8:40 a.m. to clarify that the legislation doesn’t say a “major economic development opportunity” is needed to secure an incentives package, as was indicated by a city officials. The agreement actually says that CIM Group can lobby for additional public funding if it can woo Amazon’s HQ2 or another major company, as Farokhi pointed out after publication time Wednesday.