GM asks DeKalb again to buy Doraville site

Without any other prospective buyers, GM is imploring DeKalb County commissioners to change their minds about a deal to redevelop the vacant Doraville plant.

However, the automotive company did not offer to lower the $60 million sale price of the property, according to a letter from GM obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

On Tuesday, the commission voted 5-2 against a proposal to give public money to Florida developer New Broad Street to help buy the site.

The day after the vote, New Broad Street told GM it no longer intended to buy the property, according to GM's letter to the county commissioners.

“It was with much disappointment that I read that the DeKalb County Commissioners voted against investing in the redevelopment of the vacant Doraville GM plant site,” wrote John K. Blanchard, executive director of GM’s worldwide real estate division. “Given the unprecedented weak residential and commercial real estate markets, together with a lack of qualified developers interested in this site, it could be many years before we even get to the point of selecting an appropriate developer to partner with.”

Blanchard sent the letter to each of the commissioners Thursday afternoon, offering to personally meet with each one next week.

“Given all the efforts, by all parties involved, to get so close to a solution that could work for everyone; I would like to ask for the County Commissioners to revisit the development proposal presented by New Broad Street,” Blanchard wrote.

That’s not likely to happen, given that commissioners have objected to the high cost of the property and using tax money for a private project. New Broad Street’s proposal called for a mix of retail, office space and housing units similar to Atlantic Station.

“To think we didn’t think about everything under consideration when we voted is just pure arrogance. All seven of us looked at this and five thought it shouldn’t go forward,” said Commissioner Elaine Boyer, who represents the area where the GM site sits. “Their company is owned right now two-thirds by taxpayers and they are asking us to give more? How about Jack and Jill on the street trying to find a job and take care of their family?”

Commissioners said they are confident GM can find another developer to invest in the site without county money.

CEO Burrell Ellis said he has not spoken to GM about reviving the deal, but he still maintains that the proposal is the best offer for DeKalb.

“I want to look at all of the options that are available to us to responsibly use the stimulus money," Ellis said. "We thought the GM redevelopment was a wonderful opportunity to do that."

Ellis’ proposal called for the county to use $36 million in federal stimulus bonds and raise another $18 million in property tax money to pay for interest. That means an average annual tax increase of $2 for homes valued at $200,000 for the next three years, followed by an average annual increase of $4 for the following 27 years.

Under the rejected deal, New Broad Street would put up $25 million toward the purchase price, but the rest would come from taxpayers.

In a routine presentation on county finances, Ellis told a county grand jury Thursday that the GM deal was good for the county, given its revenue situation.

“I didn’t ask them to do anything,” Ellis told the AJC. “It was a factual discussion on this is how the deal is structured, this was the vote, here are challenges that face us moving forward,” Ellis said.

Blanchard did not return a request for comment.

Doraville Mayor Ray Jenkins said he had not heard from GM or anyone in the county since Tuesday’s vote.

There had been rumors, he said, of an effort for another vote, but Doraville was more focused on working on its own study for the site. The city just began an eight-monthlook at how to incorporate a redevelopment into the existing city, creating a new downtown.

“We supported the project and worked with them all the way,” Jenkins said. “It’s just we can’t afford what was proposed.”

Real estate professionals say the land is desirable, but it could be hard finding a developer now.

"The residential market is very soft. Retail is very soft. The office market is very soft. And it's a big piece of property,” said Dean McNaughton, senior director with the brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield. "Plus, banks aren't readily lending for new construction.”

Brian Leary, president and CEO of Atlanta Beltline Inc. and a key player in the development of Atlantic Station, said the GM site may be “one of the most viable sites in the country," noting the proximity of two interstate highways and MARTA.

Big projects like Doraville, Leary added, require public-private partnerships.

"At some point, the public sector has to have skin in the game," he said, with the payoff coming in new property taxes.

But that time isn’t appear to be now.

“I don’t think they have what it takes to get my vote,” DeKalb Commissioner Lee May told the AJC. “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ so I believe in miracles and that’s what it's going to take to bring this back: a miracle.”

Staff Reporters April Hunt and David Markiewicz contributed to this report.