Gwinnett plans to buy big property where movies are filmed. Then what?

Gwinnett County hopes to buy more than 100 acres of the Norcross-area property that was previously targeted for a major movie production campus, with key votes regarding the purchase slated for Tuesday night.

What, exactly, the site may be used for in the future isn’t clear, but officials said the goal is to help spur economic development. And movie-making will likely play a big role — in helping cover the cost of the county’s purchase, if nothing else.

“It’s not that we have a grand vision already in mind,” Charlotte Nash, Gwinnett’s commission chairman, said in a Monday afternoon media briefing. “… Other than knowing that this is a very special piece of property.”

The property in question is part of the sprawling campus of OFS Brightwave Solutions, a still-active fiber optic manufacturer operating at one of Gwinnett's busiest — and most Atlanta-proximate — corridors. Of the 169 acres OFS owns off Jimmy Carter Boulevard and I-85, Gwinnett plans to purchase 104.

The purchase would technically be made by Gwinnett’s Urban Redevelopment Agency, a never-before-used body that consists of the same five people on the county’s current Board of Commissioners. The redevelopment agency would issue bonds for about $34 million (or roughly $330,000 per acre) for the county’s share of the OFS site, and the county would then make the payments on those bonds.

Nash and Maria Woods, the county’s chief financial officer, said Monday that the county’s annual debt service would run about $2.45 million.

Gwinnett’s purchase, though, would include OFS’ “Building 50” — a 422,000 square foot facility that, despite the failure of a private developer’s proposal for much larger movie campus, is currently being used for film production. The county estimates that the revenues from those projects and other streams will cover the debt payments, even after OFS takes a cut for continuing to manage movie production on the site.

A resolution supporting the redevelopment agency’s purchase is scheduled to be voted upon in a Tuesday night meeting of the commissioners. The commissioners will then gather for a special-called meeting of the redevelopment agency in order to vote on the purchase-sale agreement.

A due diligence period would follow, and the county would aim to close on the purchase around mid-December, Woods said.

The commission resolution called the potential purchase “a major milestone in Gwinnett County’s efforts and commitment to foster economic redevelopment of critical sites along the major transportation gateways to Gwinnett County.”

“I think that there’s a lot of excitement and there’s been a lot of interest from the community for something to happen on this site,” said Lynette Howard, the commissioner whose District 2 includes the OFS site. “I think a lot of people want it to be kind of a catalyst for redevelopment in the area.”

So what will go there?

The site is in the general area described in the county's new comprehensive transit plan as being most suitable for a "multimodal hub" that would connect a new heavy rail line to the existing Doraville MARTA station. Nash said Monday that such a hub "could conceivably be at this location" but declined to lay out any specific parameters for the site.

She did say that she would likely favor more urban-style, mixed-use projects. The county plans to solicit ideas from developers.

“We want to hear the best ideas from the private sector as we go forward,” Nash said.

Gwinnett County has an interesting recent history in the development arena.

Nearly a decade ago, it invested heavily in the new home of the Gwinnett Braves minor league baseball team (now known as the Stripers), seeing the stadium as an economic development tool for the surrounding area. The baseball team, though, has drawn meager crowds and the promised developments surrounding Coolray Field have largely gone unbuilt.

The county is currently scheduled to have bond payments on the stadium until 2038.

Gwinnett officials are also currently partnering with North American Properties to develop a sprawling entertainment district on county-owned land surrounding the Infinite Energy Arena near Duluth.

In a move similar to the potential OFS deal, the county also recently purchased the now-former site of the Stone Mountain Tennis Center, where Olympic events were held in 1996. The derelict facility has since been razed, and officials hope to issue a request for ideas from private developers in the coming months.