Gwinnett approves tax district to aid project near Mall of Georgia

A rendering showing part of the proposed Exchange at Gwinnett project, which would be built across I-85 from the Mall of Georgia near Buford. VIA GWINNETT COUNTY

A rendering showing part of the proposed Exchange at Gwinnett project, which would be built across I-85 from the Mall of Georgia near Buford. VIA GWINNETT COUNTY

A special tax district aimed at jump-starting a major development near the Mall of Georgia is one step closer to reality.

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners approved Tuesday night the creation of a new tax allocation district, or TAD, on the 103-acre site where developer Jeff Fuqua wants to build a $350-million project that would include 1,000 apartments and scores of dining, retail and entertainment options.

The often controversial TAD process involves freezing a property’s tax value for a number of years — and allowing a developer to use would-be property tax funds to help with their project. The idea is that an initial sacrifice in tax collections paves the way for long-term gains from projects that might not happen without the help.

Fuqua requested the TAD be created to offset costs associated with “inadequate infrastructure” on the site at the southeastern corner of Ga. 20 and I-85. The developer and a group of attorneys and advisers at Tuesday’s meeting said the site is filled with rock, water and a ravine, and will require sewer connections to be run under the interstate.

Proponents said those conditions have made previous development on the site untenable. They said about $25 million in projected TAD funding would help make sure the entirety of Fuqua’s project — the so-called Exchange at Gwinnett — is built and built well.

“It’s more than what wouldn’t happen” if the TAD isn’t approved, Fuqua said. “It’s the quality of what would happen.”

The commission voted 3-1 to approve the TAD. District 1 Commissioner Jace Brooks, who had previously expressed reservations about the measure, was the lone “no” vote.

District 3 Commissioner Tommy Hunter was absent.

“I’m pleased to see the possibilities,” Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said.

The Gwinnett County school board must also approve the TAD. It’s next scheduled meeting is Dec. 19.

Under the TAD, the site’s taxable value would be frozen at its current level of about $2.9 million for up to 30 years. During that time, any additional would-be property taxes created by new construction — and new value — on the site would be placed in a separate TAD fund.

Generally speaking, bonds would be issued up-front based on those expected revenues, allowing work to move forward more quickly. The bonds would then be paid off as the TAD collections come in.

The county would carry no liability if bonds are issued.

Non-property tax revenues — like sales tax, for instance — would still go to county coffers even while the TAD is in place.

“If it’s approved, the county will immediately see that significant increase,” said Sam Olens, the former Georgia Attorney General who is working with Fuqua on the proposal.

Gwinnett County currently has five tax allocation districts, all covering large areas. The Exchange at Gwinnett TAD would be the county’s first site-specific district.

Some critics, like Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District director Joe Allen, have questioned the need for a TAD near the Mall of Georgia, saying the method should be reserved for areas in more dire need of redevelopment.

The Board of Commissioners approved the rezoning necessary for the Exchange at Gwinnett development more than a year ago. The project is proposed to include 1.6 million square feet of offerings, including a hotel, food hall, brewery, CineBistro dine-in movie theater, and a Top Golf location.

The addition of Andretti Indoor Karting and Games was announced last month.

Fuqua said Tuesday that preliminary work on the site has already begun and the entire project could be complete within 24 months — if the TAD earns final approval.

“We feel very confident that (the school board) will understand it’s a perfect situation,” Fuqua said.