Atlanta City Council members want independent review of Gulch deal

A majority of the Atlanta City Council have signed on as co-sponsors of legislation seeking an independent review of a proposed plan to grant up to $1.75 billion in public financing to redevelop downtown's Gulch.

Eight council members co-sponsored legislation late Monday that would order city Chief Financial Officer Roosevelt Council to hire a third-party firm with expertise in complex real estate projects to analyze the proposal. The legislation requests a report be created for council as it considers providing incentives to develop the 40-acre site.

The council members want a firm “with extensive experience” in evaluating major real estate projects, the use of bond financing and a tax revenue mechanism that plays a major role in the proposal.

“We heard Atlanta loud and clear,” Councilman Amir Farokhi said in a news release. “Hundreds of constituents have called, e-mailed, or come to City Hall to weigh in on the Gulch deal. The overwhelming feeling is that while residents want to see the Gulch developed, they don’t feel fully informed and want more assurances that the framework is in the public’s best interest.”

The proposed ordinance was drafted Monday, hours after a lack of council support forced Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to delay plans for a vote on the blockbuster deal. A public hearing on the Gulch is scheduled for Sept. 26 at City Hall.

Developer CIM Group wants to build an up to $5 billion mini-city downtown between the Five Points MARTA station and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The project would be financed in part by future expected sales taxes and property taxes created on-site by the project, which would create up to 15 new downtown blocks.

Bottoms and CIM said Monday that they would work together with council and the public to ensure all sides better understand the proposal.

Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi is one of eight co-sponsors of legislation seeking an independent review of the deal terms for the redevelopment of downtown’s Gulch. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

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Critics of the Gulch plan feared the council was being rushed into a deal that could cost taxpayers more than the city has projected, and they contend the project’s benefits don’t justify the public costs.

Supporters say the financial risk falls on the developer. About $1 billion of the public financing will come from state sales taxes, and supporters tout the deal as a boon to both affordable housing and economic opportunity in the city.

The legislation seeking an independent analysis was also sponsored by council members Natalyn Mosby Archibong, Michael Julian Bond, Andre Dickens, Dustin Hillis, Jennifer Ide, J.P. Matzigkeit and Matt Westmoreland.

Of the sponsors, Farokhi, Hillis, Ide, Matzigkeit and Westmoreland joined the council this year.

The move for a third-party review comes as the city and CIM are likely to soon resume talks. A spokesman for Bottoms said Monday that he was not aware of any pending meetings between the city, council members and the developer.

The co-sponsors want the outside firm to examine “fiscal and economic impact” to the city and its general fund, projected sales and property tax ramifications and independent verification of potential public service costs. The report also is expected to analyze the proposal’s forecasts on affordable housing and future job creation.

“This project has the potential to change the face of Atlanta for untold decades,” Bond said in the release. “On such an enormous proposal, we need to avail ourselves of the best minds to ensure that we are fully informed.”