Gwinnett borrows millions to buy 100 acres of high-profile property

The current OFS site near Norcross. Courtesy Gwinnett County

The current OFS site near Norcross. Courtesy Gwinnett County

Gwinnett County officially borrowed Tuesday more than $35 million to purchase property that could become home to its first-ever MARTA station.

The 20-year bonds approved by the Board of Commissioners will be used to acquire about 103 acres at the high-profile OFS Brightwave Solutions site near I-85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard. The property has been pitched over the years as everything from a casino to a movie production campus, but none of those projects came through.

Gwinnett plans to market to property to developers in hopes of spurring new growth in the area, which they believe is one of Gwinnett's most important corridors. Officials have also suggested that the I-85 and Jimmy Carter area would be an ideal location for a new multimodal transit hub that, if voters approve a March referendum on joining MARTA, would be a potential destination for the transit agency's inaugural extension into the county.

Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash has said that locating a transit hub on the sizable OFS site would not preclude other projects. She envisions an “urban-style mixed-use development” on the property.

OFS, which manufactures fiber optic cable, plans to remain on part of the site but has been marketing the rest of the property for several years.

Gwinnett and OFS ratified a purchase-sale agreement in May. The deal, which is expected to close this month, would include OFS’ Building 50 — a 422,000 square foot facility that, despite the failure of the much larger movie campus previously proposed by a private developer, is still being used for film production.

Officials have said that the revenues collected from the continuance of such projects should cover the county’s expected annual debt service of around $2.5 million on the bonds it issued Tuesday.

The county received eight bids for the $35.435 million in bonds and went with the low bidder, chief financial officer Maria Woods said. They will be financed at 3.9 percent interest.

The commission vote passed 3-1, which District 4 Commissioner John Heard the lone no vote. District 3 Commissioner Tommy Hunter was not present during the meeting.

Heard — who lost his re-election bid last month — has previously said he doesn’t believe government should be involved “in the development process.”

He deemed the OFS project to be different from several other speculative undertakings that the county has gotten involved in recently.

The county has acquired and razed the Olympics-era Stone Mountain Tennis Center and plans to present that site to potential developers as well.

Gwinnett is also involved in a sizable mixed-use development on the Infinite Energy Center site and has broken ground on a $60 million "water innovation center" that it hopes will spur business opportunities.