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Gwinnett lobbies for higher hotel tax to support Infinite Energy plans

Gwinnett officials are asking legislators to raise the county’s hotel-motel tax, the proceeds of which feed into a multimillion dollar fund that helps promote local tourism.

Officials said the additional tax money could also provide more funding for the long-planned expansion of the county’s Infinite Energy Center campus.

“There’s just a lot going on in the tourism field,” Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said Tuesday, “and this will be one mechanism to provide some additional funding without having to touch the property tax dollars in Gwinnett.”

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State law allows for local governments to collect up to an 8 percent excise tax from hotel and motel users. Gwinnett currently taxes those users at 7 percent. The county’s Board of Commissioners approved Tuesday a resolution that asked Gwinnett’s legislative delegation to introduce and support legislation to raise the county’s tax that final percentage point.

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The idea was originally floated by the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, which would benefit from the extra funds and whose board voted in October to move forward with the request.

“Increasing the county’s hotel-motel tax will increase revenue and play a key role in supporting the highly anticipated expansion, upgrades and improvements to the Infinite Energy Center campus,” GCVB CEO Preston Williams wrote in a subsequent letter to the county commission. “The Center currently generates almost $200 million in annual economic impact, and we feel strongly that the expansion will generate additional and significant state and local tax revenues.”

An artist’s rendering of what the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth might look like: a mix of entertainment venues, retail shops, offices and restaurants. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The visitors bureau operates the Infinite Energy Center, the Duluth-area complex that includes a theater, a convention center and an arena. A plan is in the works for a major overhaul of the campus, one that would include more than doubling the convention center’s 50,000 square feet of space, upgrades and updates to the theater and arena, and the addition of a long-talked-about hotel.

Gwinnett has already set aside nearly $61 million in local sales tax dollars for the project — which is in addition to a public-private partnership between the county and developer North American Properties.

North American plans to build a separate development on the site near I-85 and Sugarloaf Parkway, one complete with new housing, restaurants, retail and parking. The developer behind the uber-successful Avalon development in Alpharetta, North American has said the project would “change life in Gwinnett.”

It was not immediately clear if new hotel-motel tax money would or could be used on that development.

“There’s certain allowable uses for the funds and certainly we’ll assure that they’re used in compliance with the state law requirements related to that,” Nash said.

According to budget documents, Gwinnett County expected to collect just north of $9 million in hotel-motel excise taxes in 2017. Maria Woods, the county’s chief financial officer, estimated that increasing the tax to 8 percent would raise about $1.5 million more per year.

Raising the hotel-motel tax rate would require local legislation presented by and voted upon by Gwinnett’s delegation at the state capitol and then signed by Gov. Nathan Deal. The new legislative session begins Jan. 8.

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The AJC's Tyler Estep keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Gwinnett County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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