The new Stockbridge Downtown Development Authority, created last year, has high hopes for a new technology campus near the intersection of Eagles Landing Parkway and Rock Quarry Road in Henry County.
The authority unveiled plans Tuesday for the new Georgia Technology Park, an area across from Piedmont Henry Hospital that once housed physician offices but eventually will consist of technology companies looking for an area in which to grow, organizers said.
The only obstacle, however, may be the City of Stockbridge itself. New members of the Stockbridge City Council insist the authority doesn’t have the power to enter into the kind of public-private partnerships that the authority will rely on to make the park a success.
The authority announced World Internet Group, a company that acquires and develops technology companies, will move into a 33,000-square-foot building on the campus.
New council members like LaKeisha Gantt and Anthony Ford, however, said the DDA was disbanded earlier this year during a series of votes to undue 11th-hour decisions by the previous council before the end of 2013. Gantt said the authority, headed by Chairman J.T. Williams, also was issued a cease-and-desist order by the Stockbridge city attorney.
“We haven’t had an opportunity to even look at the agreements that have been made and because of that and because there is a lot of money involved we went ahead and just dismantled the DDA,” said Gantt, who suggested legal action may have to be taken to undo decisions by the authority. “As far as the city of Stockbridge is concerned, right now we don’t have a DDA.” Gantt said she supports the idea of an technology park, but now how it was developed.
Williams, however, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday that the authority was duly created and registered with the state Department of Community Affairs, and that the city has no authority to dismantle it. Williams also said the new technology park will proceed and could eventually create more than 3,000 jobs directly.
Williams said World Internet has been quietly assembling about 15 properties for several months with the vision of a tech campus. “They came to us to see if we would enter a public-private partnership to develop and promote the park,” he said.
The authority began closing on the properties last month with a $5 million loan from the city, a decision approved by the previous council. The authority expects to finance the balance of its up to $25 million commitment to the partnership, which also calls for $75 million in private investments. The debt would be paid off from shared proceeds from the lease agreements for the park, Williams said.
“We are talking to people in this country and overseas that have already indicated an interest [in relocating to the park],” he said.
Tino Mantella, president of the Technology Association of Georgia, said the metro area is increasingly establishing itself as a hub for innovation centers, such as the Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech, and with companies like AT&T, Panasonic, General Motors and IBM investing heavily in them.
AT&T announced last week it opened a 5,000-square-foot research facility to test and develop innovations in digital automotive communications. The center is located near the AT&T Foundry innovation center adjacent to Georgia Tech.
Infrastructure investments in the Stockbridge area, such as $15 million in new fiber optic network that will bring high-capacity broadband services, will help lure tech companies, Williams said.
World Internet will lease one of three structures at the park. The building will be available as an innovation lab for start-up tech companies, a research center for academic institutions, a learning center, a jobs center and will provide “accelerator” space designed to help companies that need a home to grow rather than leaving the state. The campus will also house multiple data centers.
“We believe this will have a significant impact on the technology sector in the state, making Georgia the Southeast’s premier technology hub.” World Internet Chief Executive Officer Scott Barresi said. World Internet invests in cloud, mobile, Internet security, big data and social technology businesses.
Stockbridge Councilman Richard Steinberg, who has served for two years and voted for the authority’s creation, said the project will ensure economic vitality.
“The authority was created legally and, in my estimation, is a great thing in bringing high-paying jobs to the city,” Steinberg said. He said the city is fighting high unemployment and has businesses that are struggling and disappearing from office parks.
“If you create jobs, you sustain businesses, and you allow businesses that are faltering to survive,” Steinberg said. “The city requires economic development and businesses for its vitality and sustainability.”
Williams said he hopes the new city council will eventually back the effort.
“I want the DDA, the mayor and the city council to be on one team,” Williams said. “I want us to communicate well and help each other. We are committed to do that.”
Mayor Tim Thompson could not be reached for comment.