West Midtown mixed-use project gets preliminary OK for $5.4M tax break

Credit: Courtesy of S.J. Collins Enterprises

Credit: Courtesy of S.J. Collins Enterprises

Fulton County leaders on Tuesday gave conditional approval for a 10-year, $5.4 million tax break to developer S.J. Collins Enterprises for the second phase of its’ $450 million mixed-use development known as The Interlock in West Midtown.

The Fulton County Development Authority voted 8-1 to OK the deal.

The company received a $7.5 million tax abatement from Invest Atlanta in 2018 for the first phase of the development — which will offer office and retail space, in addition to a hotel west of the Downtown Connector, along Northside Drive.

Jeff Garrison, a partner with Fairburn-based real estate development firm, said that area west of Georgia Tech desperately needs the vibrancy seen on the east side of campus.

“Right now it’s all fast food on the Northside corridor, and that’s not representative of what they want to do with (their) community,” Garrison said.

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Garrison said S.J. Collins’ officials spent 300 hours in community meetings over two years, engaging with the public and working with Georgia Tech, which owns some of the property through an affiliate.

But the tax deals haven’t been free of controversy.

In June 2018, Invest Atlanta board member Julian Bene wrote of the project that “it is time to reconsider the wisdom of multi-million-dollar tax concessions for projects with minimal public benefit.”

When asked why his company applied for the second-phase tax incentives through Fulton's Development Authority instead of Invest Atlanta, Garrison said he liked working with the county's agency on its Southern Post project in Roswell. The company received a $2.7 million abatement for that project in July 2019.

On Tuesday, a majority of the Fulton board voted in favor of the tax break after the developer promised at least $5 million of infrastructure improvements and a 40,000-square-foot grocery store in a part of town that needs both.

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Vice chairman Steve Broadbent, a former Johns Creek councilman, said he came into the meeting planning to vote no but was persuaded by the promise of new infrastructure.

Garrison’s presentation didn’t sway Authority member Tom Tidwell, the lone vote against the abatement.

“I don’t think that we should be providing tax abatement for a grocery store that would be more convenient,” said Tidwell, former Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods head.

Credit: Courtesy of S.J. Collins Enterprises

Credit: Courtesy of S.J. Collins Enterprises

The Authority’s vote isn’t final. The tax break will only go into effect if the project delivers the promised infrastructure improvements and grocery.

Garrison said he expects a portion of The Interlock to open in spring 2023.

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But a lot needs to happen between now and then, including excavating lead-contaminated soil that is leaching into the water table after the property was used as a dumping site for former steel mill site Atlantic Station.

Garrison said they are working with the state Environmental Protection Division to safely remove the soil to a site in Ball Ground.

In addition to excavating contaminated soil and spending millions on public infrastructure, Garrison said there are many other issues: land owners suing each other over property borders; designing the look of the development with officials from Georgia Tech; improving the perception that the neighborhood is unsafe; and building a walkable community in the middle of an car-centric area.

Even considering all that, Garrison said the project is still worth the trouble — especially with the tax break.

“It is what we need to make the project viable and a success,” he said.

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