“We can’t tell what the fiscal impact is of a project when we don’t know what the project is yet,” Commissioner Laura Semanson, who represents the district encompassing the development site and has signaled support for the Gathering.
Consulting firm Stafford Sports, which is among the Gathering project’s leaders, commissioned its own feasibility study. A portion of the analysis obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through the Georgia Open Records Act focuses solely on an arena with an NHL franchise, determining it would generate $6.6 million per year in county sales taxes and nearly $18 million in annual state tax revenues.
But the portion of the analysis released did not include any mention of potential public costs, such as taxpayer support for operations, transportation or security. Semanson told the AJC ahead of Tuesday’s meeting that the county needs its own study.
“The last thing we want to do is come off with an overly ambitious pipe dream-type of proposal that doesn’t have any answers to the real hard questions,” she said. “We want people to understand the good and the bad.”
The development team declined to make the entire study public, despite its representatives boasting that the arena would be self-sustaining even without a sports franchise. The arena is expected to anchor the surrounding development, including 2,400 apartments, shops, restaurants, offices, a fire station, community center and up to 500 hotel rooms. But developers have also said contours of the project could change.
The Gathering team, which was not present at Tuesday’s work session, so far has declined to say whether they will seek taxpayer assistance, and if so, what the public tab will be. Developers of most sports arenas and stadiums seek public support, though economists generally say the return on taxpayer dollars isn’t as great as supporters promise.
The unknown public cost has created heartburn among some county leaders, but the commissioners said forging forward with their own analysis is the next logical step.
“It is money well invested to get answers,” Commissioner Cindy Mills said during the meeting. “Having a baseline for when the (public investment) ask does come will help us know how it affects us and how it effects the project.”
Forward Forsyth, the county’s economic development arm, will assist with the eventual analysis, providing demographic information and other statistics. Alex Warner, the organization’s vice present of economic development, said the future study will be conducted independently and will help determine if the Gathering team’s internal study stands up to scrutiny.
The project site, located off Ga. 400 and Union Hill Road, is owned by Vernon Krause, the CEO of Krause Auto Group and visionary behind the Gathering project. But the land has yet to be rezoned, and the county would need to tweak its code to allow for the project’s proposed residential density. The commission will consider the zoning questions at its May 23 meeting.
Warner emphasized that no other project proposed for Forsyth matches the Gathering’s grandiose scale, which is why county leaders are discussing public financing at this early stage.
“This project is unique with how early it is in the public eye,” Warner said. “We will have answers to all of their questions before any decisions are made.”