Clayton County has put the kibosh on a proposed futuristic $800 million mixed-use development amid growing concerns about the contractor’s ability to finance the project and numerous missed deadlines to get it off the ground.

In a letter to Roman United, the county’s economic development arm informed the company that it plans to sever an agreement to lease 26 acres of land for the development.

The project — which would have featured two 27-story condominium buildings, a 25-story luxury hotel, a 25-story office building and 7,500-seat amphitheater — was to be built at a mostly abandoned strip shopping center in tiny Lake City.

Invest Clayton “is terminating the Development Agreement and related Ground Lease agreement effective May 11, 2023,” says the letter, dated May 1.

A day later, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to also cancel its contract with Roman to build a $4 million small business incubator at the site.

Jacques Roman, the leader and namesake of the company, did not return calls for comment.

Jacques Roman, CEO of Roman United speaks to news media before a press conference announcing the ground breaking for an $800 million mixed used property in Clayton County on Friday, August 26, 2022.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

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Credit: Natrice Miller /

The terminations came after months of questions over the county’s due diligence in awarding the contracts to Roman. Answers to those questions revealed lax oversight of the development authority, and the failure to fully investigate the company’s financial ability to complete the project.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation into the feasibility of the project found the author of a letter of commitment backing the development with $100 million from a foreign investor was not aware that Roman United had proceeded with the project.

Vaughn Richmond, who said he represented a Singapore-based wealth management firm, told the AJC in March that investors “hadn’t come to a clear understanding” with Roman when the commitment letter was sent, and that it wasn’t binding. He added that he had not spoken with the Roman team for some time.

“I could easily rescind my letter, because I don’t know where they are on the project,” he said at the time.

Invest Clayton alluded to Richmond’s comments in its termination letter, which was signed by chairwoman Regina Deloach.

“Roman United has failed to provide adequate evidence of funding, particularly in light of comments made by the individual who signed the financing letter indicating that he was not aware that the project was moving forward and that the conditional commitment financing was not binding,” the termination letter says.

The letter also says the contract was cancelled because the company “did not obtain written approval of an Approved Lender, close on a construction loan with an Approved Lender, deposit required equity with an Approve Lender, or obtain all necessary government approvals and permits for the project by January 1, 2023.”

Leaders of Invest Clayton did not return repeated calls for comment, including Deloach and Larry Vincent, executive director of the agency.

Vincent said in an earlier interview with the AJC that he did not vet Roman United because the project had been approved by previous Invest Clayton leaders, and that it was his understanding that others had done the due diligence on financing and other requirements.

However Vincent was co-chairman on Invest Clayton when the project was pitched to the group in 2019 and became executive director the next year. Khalfani Stephens, who proceeded Vincent as executive director, said the final vetting on the project happened after he left Invest Clayton and that Vincent was trying to shift the blame on others.

(Left to right) Lake City Mayor Ronald Dodson; Executive Director at Invest Clayton Larry Vincent; Clayton County District One commissioner Aleika Anderson and Invest Clayton Chair Regina Deloach sit during a press conference announcing the ground breaking for an $800 million mixed used property in Clayton County on Friday, August 26, 2022.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

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Credit: Natrice Miller /

Multiple red flags were missed. Richmond was twice convicted of federal charges in wire fraud cases and served a year in prison. Roman had embellished his development experience on his website and went through a recent eviction, despite claiming his massive project would be entirely funded through private means.

Roman also never filed any planning documents with the state, and didn’t apply for local building permits or try to rezone the land with Lake City.

The development was announced in August with lavish groundbreaking ceremonies promising a first-of-its-kind project for Clayton. If constructed, it would have created a mini-skyline in a community whose tallest buildings reach only around three stories.

The development would have replaced a mostly abandoned shopping center that was once anchored by an Ingles grocery store that has long since closed. A dry cleaners and a Dollar General are the sole occupants of the strip center today. It sits across the street from Clayton State University.

The closed grocery store, Ingles, is shown at the Lake City Crossing shopping center on Jonesboro Rd., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, in Morrow, Ga.. No work has been done on this site to build an amphitheater and 27-story condo building by summer 2023. Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

The Clayton Commission terminated its contract with Roman in part because the $559,000 advance given to the firm for architectural and design produced scant results.

Landry Merkison, Clayton’s fire chief and chief resilience officer, said in April that Roman turned in three documents for the payment: a seven-page presentation defining what an incubator is; a 27-page presentation that included the building’s design schematics; and a 49-page presentation with seismic data and details on the impact wind loads could have on the low-rise buildings.

Chris Leighty, Lake City’s city manager, said he wonders where the project would be if Roman had stuck with its original, modest pitch: three-to-four story apartment and condo buildings, ground-floor retail and a smaller hotel. The only piece that didn’t seem compatible with the area was a 15,000-seat arena.

The total price: about $200 million.

“It was similar to what you’d find in Lawrenceville,” he said of the initial plan. “When they had the groundbreaking and started talking $800 million, that was quite frankly the first time we heard about that.”