GM gives up on DeKalb, seeks new developer

General Motors is back to looking for a new developer to buy the vacant Doraville plant now that DeKalb County commissioners have fully said no to a redevelopment deal.

Meanwhile, the DeKalb grand jury issued a report that indicates no fraud or wrongdoing involving the project, but raises several questions.

At GM’s request, six of the seven county commissioners met individually with GM executives on Wednesday to talk about the proposed deal. The talks were not fruitful.

“There’s nothing else for us to do,” Commissioner Elaine Boyer told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ll work with them in the district to find a new project, but clearly, I will not support taxpayers' financing of the deal.”

Last week, commissioners voted against buying the 165-acre lot with Florida developer New Broad Street. The project called for the county to use $36 million in federal stimulus bonds and another $18 million in property taxes to cover the interest.

On Wednesday, GM said it is now looking for another buyer for the $60 million property.

“We haven’t had a chance to put together plan B,” said John Blanchard, executive director of GM’s worldwide real estate division. “The property is still for sale if anyone is interested.”

Commissioners said they are happy to help GM find a developer, but are not willing to contribute any tax dollars to the project.

Squabbles between CEO Burrell Ellis and the commissioners are what caused the grand jury to get involved, saying it received “conflicting” information.

As part of a regular presentation on county government operations, Ellis spoke to the grand jury last week about the county’s revenue situation and GM. On Tuesday, Boyer and Commissioner Larry Johnson went to the grand jury to share their side of the story.

As a result, jurors -- who ended their service Tuesday -- recommended the next grand jury term find out how many jobs were really promised as part of the project, if those jobs can be promised to DeKalb residents and whether Doraville really supported the project.

“At this time, we have nothing on the table,” Ellis said. “The grand jury just wants some verification of these questions and the reports to back up this information.”

Wednesday was the first time the commissioners had spoken directly to GM, despite two years of negotiations.

“GM had signed an agreement that they could not or would not talk to the Board of Commissioners,” Boyer said. “They recognized that was the first mistake. The agreement said the developer had full control, even though they were using public money.”

Blanchard said that is not unusual, and standard real estate negotiations usually involve only the buyer and seller. “It is inappropriate for us to be part of that. We have to deal with the developer,” he said.

However, DeKalb was contributing $35 million toward the $60 million purchase price.

“I have served 18 years and have never seen a project where all the parties weren’t at the table,” said Boyer, who represents the Doraville area. “It was a cloak-and-dagger deal put together by the administration. I’m not putting up with that.”

Ellis said it was the developer -- not him -- who decided not to involve commissioners. Ellis said he had only two conversations with GM, but most of his dealings were with the developer and consultants.

The grand jury’s report indicates that the commissioners were not involved in the planning process and that the bond money could be better used for urgent infrastructure projects, including upgrading the county’s water and sewer system.

The CEO said he is now working on proposals for the bonds to be used for the water system. The deadline for using the federal bond money is Sept. 30.