UPDATED: Atlanta City Council to hold special meeting to consider Gulch deal

The Atlanta City Council is expected to hold a special meeting next week to consider a public financing package for downtown's $5 billion Gulch project.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ office called for a noon Wednesday hearing, but as of Thursday afternoon, the council hadn’t received the final Gulch legislation. Bottoms is pushing for a vote, but several council members said this week they want time to review any future deal terms before making a final decision.

City Council President Felicia Moore OK’d the meeting, but wrote in a memo that she has “great concern” about including such important legislation on the agenda when the council hasn’t seen the new proposal.

Bottoms and developer CIM Group say the proposed 40-acre mix of office towers, apartments, hotels and retail is a chance to revitalize a hole in the heart of the city’s core. The Gulch is a tangle of parking lots and railroad tracks stretching from Mercedes-Benz Stadium to the Five Points MARTA station.

The original proposal unveiled this summer included a public financing package of up to $1.75 billion in bonds backed by portions of future sales taxes and property taxes created by the project.

It also contained commitments for affordable housing, job training and an economic development fund. But critics say the public benefits aren’t commensurate with the taxpayer support.

The council twice balked at the original deal, sending Bottoms and CIM back to the drawing board.

A rendering of CIM Group’s proposed $5 billion redevelopment of downtown Atlanta’s Gulch.

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On Monday, the city and CIM scrapped a controversial provision that would have extend property tax collections in a special taxing district through 2048. The Westside Tax Allocation District, instead, will help fund the project through 2038.

The TAD extension had been fiercely opposed by some council members and by Atlanta Public Schools, which also would have had to approve the extension.

Other parts of the deal were believed to be under negotiation late Thursday, but the call for a special meeting signals the core terms are set.

The proposal will rely on a second public funding stream. It will include bonds supported by five cents of the local 8.9-cent sales tax revenue created in the Gulch area for the next 30 years.

It’s not immediately clear how much the public contribution to the Gulch project might have been reduced.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of terms of the deal obtained earlier this week showed the public contribution would be capped at $1.665 billion over 30 years. But city and CIM representatives said terms within a 403-page document the AJC reviewed weren’t final.

In her memo, Council President Moore said the first opportunity for the new legislation to be heard publicly will be at the council’s Community Development/Human Services Committee meeting on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. But she said that would not meet the city’s 24-hour requirement to be advertised prior to the special-called council hearing the following day.

“This will limit the transparency to the public as to what will be before the Council for consideration,” Moore wrote in a memo to city Chief Financial Officer Roosevelt Council.

What is a TAD? 

The Gulch proposal relies on a Tax Allocation District as a potential public funding source. A TAD is a zone where governments freeze property tax collections at current levels for a period of time and use future expected increases in property values over many years to fund infrastructure and other improvements in that zone. After the TAD expires, the city, county and schools would reap the benefits of a higher tax base.

Our Reporting 

The AJC first reported the city and CIM Group’s talks on a potential 10-figure public financing package for the Gulch project. AJC reporters have also looked at the potential costs and community benefits of the up-to-$5 billion project that could remake a 40-acre downtown site into a mix of offices, retail, hotels and residences. The Atlanta City Council has scheduled a special-called meeting on the matter Wednesday at noon.