In an 8-6 vote, the Atlanta City Council approved a plan late Monday night for the redevelopment of the downtown area known as the Gulch.
After several hours of discussion, the council approved the $5 billion proposal that would mix a forest of office towers with residences, hotels and retail to reshape a portion of the city’s skyline.
The development would require up to $1.9 billion in public subsidy, some of which is needed to build platforms of parking garages to lift the new neighborhood above a canyon of asphalt and railroad tracks, and level the street grid with surrounding viaducts.
Passage is a major victory for first-year mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who three times had to postpone a vote for lack of council support.
In a statement issued late Monday night, Bottoms said:
The project has polarized the community: Supporters see it as an investment in jobs, affordable housing and economic development, while critics complain the project was rushed through without sufficient public input and will further income inequality and gentrification.
Bottoms has repeatedly called the proposal by California-based developer CIM a once in a lifetime opportunity. And many supporters echoed that sentiment during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting. That included former Ambassador Andrew Young, who served as Atlanta mayor from 1982-90.
“We’ve never had an offer, to my knowledge, to put money in the Gulch,” said Young, who was the first speaker of the day. “And doing nothing costs us money. I have cast my lot with meaningful, successful and visionary developers. I hope you will see the wisdom in this case.”
Young’s comments set off an explosion of applause and jeers — and caused City Council President Felicia Moore to threaten to throw out individuals or even clear the room if there were more outbursts. Spectators, who spilled out of council chambers into two overflow rooms where the meeting was being broadcast on televisions, kept their emotions in check the rest of the day.
Opponents of the development released a legal analysis of the development last week, questioning the constitutionality of a portion of the agreement. Former Georgia Sen. Vincent Fort said approval of the council wouldn’t end the issue.
“The legal issue is real,” Fort said. “We’re very serious about making sure the legal structure of this deal does not punish taxpayers.”
CIM was founded by Richard Ressler — whose brother, Tony, is the lead owner of the Hawks. CIM committed to having 10 percent ownership go to minority-owned interests, which haven’t been identified.
The developers envision a network of streets and skyscrapers that stretch from the CNN Center to the Richard B. Russell Federal Courthouse in what would be the largest single development downtown since Peachtree Center started in the 1960s. CIM would build 18 parcels with at least nine skyscrapers of 225 feet or more in height, including one rising 500 feet or about 40 stories.
The proposal also includes 9 million square feet of office space, 1,000 residences, 1,500 hotel rooms and 1 million square feet of retail space.
After postponing votes on the development, Bottoms two weeks ago unveiled a revamped deal that reduces its dependence on long-term borrowing and increases the incentive for developer CIM to build faster so tax revenue can be used to recoup some of the project costs.
The changes didn’t appease Atlanta Public Schools. Moore and council member Jennifer Ide said they were contacted recently by APS Superintendent Meria J. Carstarphen, who told them the school system’s attorneys had raised issues with the city’s Law Department in recent days.
An APS spokesman said Monday that the school district continues to be concerned about the amount of revenue being diverted from the schools to several tax allocation districts. APS spokesman Ian Smith said the school district is the largest contributor to five of the 10 Tax Allocation Districts in the city.
“APS has been consistent in communicating with City administration and officials our concerns about resolving open issues regarding those five TADs before we can consider participating in any new TADs or extending current ones,” Smith wrote in an email to the AJC. “Our recent communication with City administration and officials reflects that position, in addition to questions we’ve raised about the Gulch proposal, including the timeline for the educational increment (which we worry might be extended beyond 2038 to pay redevelopment costs and supplemental award payments to the developer), the use of that increment, and bond guarantees.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.