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Georgia governor wants Gulch transformed from ‘hole in the ground’

Gov. Nathan Deal endorsed the sweeping project to redevelop downtown Atlanta’s Gulch, saying Wednesday the proposal to build a mini-city will transform the forlorn lot into a “revenue producer rather than just a hole in the ground.”

His office has been closely involved in the negotiations to redevelop the Gulch, which will require both billions of dollars in private funding and a substantial public investment, in part because the state owns a giant chunk of the sprawling property. 

And Deal made clear in an interview with Richard Elliot of Channel 2 Action News that he wants Atlanta city councilmembers to approve what could amount to $1.75 billion in public financing if the project meets its full potential of $5 billion in new construction. 

“We’re hopeful that the City Council will go forward with the Gulch development, and we think great things will happen when that occurs,” said Deal. 

That won’t be easy. The Atlanta City Council so far appears wary of a potential 10-figure incentive for the project, which would replace a web of decaying parking lots and railroad tracks with a mix of office space, hotels, retail and as many as 1,000 residences.

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The project is being led by CIM Group, a development firm that envisions building a platform 40 feet above ground level to span the rail lines and at least a dozen new city blocks across 27 acres to knit together downtown Atlanta.

Atop the platform would be a new network of streets, stores and skyscrapers that amount to the largest single development in downtown in decades.

In an exclusive interview this week, Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler called the Gulch an “anchor” that’s dragging on the city’s core and said the redevelopment proposal is “100 percent certain to be a positive to metro Atlanta.”

That project, he added, would proceed regardless of whether Atlanta is picked for Amazon’s second headquarters. The Seattle-based e-commerce giant has scouted the site for the $5 billion campus, which could bring 50,000 new jobs to the region. 

“This is a development that does not require — by any stretch — Amazon,” said Ressler, whose brother Richard runs CIM Group.

It’s unclear if there are enough council votes to approve the Gulch incentives.

Several members have expressed concerns that the package of tax breaks over three decades could limit the city’s long-term financial flexibility. Fulton County and Atlanta Public Schools must also approve aspects of the deal. 

Deal’s support is the latest sign that the state will forcefully advocate for the Gulch overhaul. State economic development officials have intensely recruited other big firms to relocate to the site, and Deal’s top aide Chris Riley visited City Hall last week to push the project. 

The governor said in the interview that the state has also made its part of the site “available for future development” and noted its proximity to other state-owned attractions, such as the Georgia World Congress Center and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

“We’re hopeful the city will go along with it because a partnership between the state, the City of Atlanta and the private community will provide great things for our capital city,” Deal said, “and certainly will put this property back on the tax book rather than just being a hole in the ground.”

- Staff writer Scott Trubey contributed to this report.


About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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