Georgia Senate backs big tax break for Philips Arena area developers

The Georgia Senate on Thursday backed a tax break for developers planning to turn the area surrounding Philips Arena into a mixed-use entertainment district.

Los Angeles-based CIM Group is considering spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the project, aimed at cementing the western edge of downtown as one of the Southeast’s biggest entertainment draws.

The sales tax break was amended onto House Bill 937, which would extend a tax break for major business expansion projects, such as the Falcons stadium and Baxter International’s plant near Covington.

Robert Highsmith, an attorney for the Atlanta Hawks and CIM Group, said the amendment does not specifically say how much developers would receive, but that it makes them eligible for a tax break.

But Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, called the tax break an illegal “gratuity” to developers, and thus unconstitutional under Georgia law. He said it guarantees the developer get a sales tax rebate on everything bought at the new development.

“We are writing a check to a developer for taxes that he didn’t pay,” Heath said.

The Hawks would attempt to create a live-work-play destination in an area largely populated by workers and tourists. The team is contemplating a number of properties around the arena, including land within downtown’s “Gulch, ” but additional property as well.

The bill now must return to the House for a final vote before the session ends later Thursday.

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