Developer pitches Norcross entertainment complex

The governor opposes video gambling, and the Georgia Lottery Board is hesitant to endorse gaming proposals without support from elected officials and the public.

But developer Dan O’Leary still believes his proposed $1 billion entertainment complex along I-85 near Norcross has a great shot. And Tuesday night he made his case to local officials at a meeting of the Gwinnett Municipal Association, saying the project would boost the state’s ailing HOPE scholarship program, create 2,500 jobs and boost tourism and tax revenue for the entire region.

“We are bringing a trophy to Gwinnett County if this thing is built,” O’Leary told more than 50 city and county officials who attended.

O’Leary has been pitching his plan all year. He wants to develop 122 acres — the Optical Fiber Solutions industrial site near I-85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard — into a hotel, retail and entertainment complex.

Though he doesn’t call it a casino, it would feature lottery terminals that resemble video slot machines.

O’Leary has met with Gov. Nathan Deal and a host of other political and business leaders. He has talked about the 2,500 jobs it would create and the $350 million the video lottery terminals could generate for the state’s HOPE college scholarship and pre-k education programs, which face serious financial shortages.

He has pledged to donate land for an on-site transit station if state officials approve his plans. He has even enlisted the help of University of Georgia icon Herschel Walker, who has said he’ll open a sports bar and restaurant on site if the plan moves forward.

Despite those efforts, O’Leary still faces hurdles. The governor’s opposition and the Georgia Lottery Board’s wariness are the predominant obstacles.

But there’s also this: While a narrow majority of Georgia Republicans supported casino gambling in the July primary election, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of 625 metro Atlanta residents that same month found a majority opposed “video-style slot machines.”

Despite the challenges, O’Leary said he gives the project a “100 percent” chance of happening. But he said it needs visible public support.

“The lottery board, the elected officials, they need to see that citizens want this,” he said. “They need to see that the business community wants this.”

Some local officials share O’Leary’s optimism. Chuck Warbington, executive director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, which includes the proposed site, thinks there’s a good chance O’Leary’s plans will come to pass.

“It’s continuing to get support,” Warbington said. “At some point I think it will break loose. The HOPE [scholarship] issue is not going away.”