Georgia official: Norfolk Southern Gulch land crucial to HQ hunt

A senior state official said Wednesday that Norfolk Southern is scouting Atlanta for a new headquarters, a project he said could create or relocate about 1,000 jobs to the city if the railroad giant decides to leave Virginia.

Bert Brantley, chief operating officer of the state Department of Economic Development, said the Norfolk Southern allowed him to confirm that the Fortune 500 company is scouting Atlanta for a new headquarters. The announcement came during a public meeting at Atlanta City Hall about the $5 billion Gulch redevelopment project.

Norfolk Southern owns land in the Gulch and wants to sell it, and use the proceeds for its headquarters project. Gulch developer CIM Group would buy that land and land owned by other entities for its 40-acre downtown mini-city featuring office buildings, hotels, retail and apartments.

Earlier this month, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Norfolk Southern's interest in Atlanta. Though the Gulch is not its favored site for its relocation, Norfolk Southern's Gulch land is a key piece of CIM's proposed project.

“They’re not looking at any other cities,” Brantley told the town hall. “The decision is staying in Virginia or [moving to] Atlanta.”

The AJC reported last week that Norfolk Southern has scouted Midtown for office locations, and Gov. Nathan Deal previously the AJC's reporting and has encouraged Atlanta City Council to back the Gulch deal to help facilitate the potential headquarters relocation.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was forced to delay a vote to approve a public financing plan of up to $1.75 billion for the Gulch project, lacking votes to approve the deal.

City Council members have expressed concerns about the potential public cost of the Gulch deal and raised questions about whether the benefit is matches the public investment.

But she has continued to push council and the public to support the project.

Landing Norfolk Southern would be a major win for the city, business boosters say. In the past 10 years, metro Atlanta has wooed other Fortune 500 headquarters, including financial technology company NCR and homebuilder PulteGroup.

Norfolk Southern has a regional campus in Midtown it recently expanded, and the company has more than 4,700 employees in the state, according to its website.

CIM has not announced any tenants for its project.

Brantley said the state will be a significant investor in the Gulch deal. The state’s share of sales taxes generated on the site would go to infrastructure.

He said the state will help recruit companies to the Gulch when CIM develops its project.