Atlanta City Council votes 8-6 for new 'Gulch Project' proposal

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Atlanta's highly controversial Gulch project passed the City Council Monday night by a vote of 8-6.

Hundreds on all sides began showing up in downtown to debate the proposal beginning at noon. Many stayed all day and well into the night as the council president gave the mic to homeowners, business people and even a former mayor who participated in four hours of public comment.

Andy Young, who served two terms in the 1980s, described the plan as an intelligent risk. He compared it to other disputed projects like MARTA and the highway project Georgia 400.

In both, the ex-mayor said, people expressed opposition. In the end, Young said, Atlanta is better off proceeding with a vision that helped the city grow.

But Young's forward-looking view of the Gulch was countered by residents and other political folks who see two major drawbacks. They complain the public commitment to a private developer remains too much, even though Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has decreased it.

Secondly, some opponents say they fear gentrification (displacement) of poorer residents who suffer when "shiny" new developments are built appealing to higher income citizens who relocate in and around the complex.

RELATED: New terms for 'Gulch Project' revealed

The development covers unused acreage across Mercedes-Benz Stadium. There would be new offices, retail, restaurants, and housing.

The proposal has been redesigned several times after pushback from critics who complain the price tag is too high and public benefits too low.

Under the new arrangement, bond financing would drop by about $585 million.

And the developer, CIM Group, would face more financial responsibility for the project.

Several neighborhood groups are at City Hall to continue lobbying against it.

They argue too much public money would be turned over to a private developer for the planned mixed-use project

RELATED: Gulch project vote set for Monday

Mayor Bottoms released a statement around midnight which reads:

“We have established a new model for leveraging land development to achieve both economic growth and community good.  Never in the history of our city has a single development deal been negotiated in a way that will have such far-reaching, generational impact. The Gulch redevelopment will not only physically bridge the gap between the east and westsides of Atlanta, bringing economic vitality to a long-undeveloped part of downtown, but also affordable housing, workforce training, enhanced public safety, and job opportunities throughout the city,” said Mayor Bottoms. “I am grateful for the approval by the Atlanta City Council and look forward to continuing to work with them to ensure that as our city grows and prospers, our communities are not left behind."

The mayor said the city will receive a $28 million investment into a citywide affordable housing fund, a required minimum affordable housing residential units of 200 or 20 percent, whichever is greater, a $2 million commitment for workforce training, a $12 million investment into a citywide economic development fund, a commitment to what the mayor calls an unprecedented levels of minority and female-owned businesses with a goal of at least 38 percent utilization and an offer of 10 equity, and a $12 million commitment towards the construction of a new seven-bay fire station.

The council-passed measure also stipulates that CIM will be assuming all financial risk, including all design and construction expenses and serving as the sole purchaser of the new TAD bonds. In addition, CIM will be paying taxes in full, only receiving the benefit of TAD supplemental payments as reimbursements once compliance on obligations and expenses has been independently verified. For qualified expenses, Invest Atlanta will make reimbursement payments to CIM for up to 12.5 percent of total project costs or through 2038, whichever occurs first, and reducing TAD bond proceeds available to CIM from $500 million to $32 million, with up to $8 million in bond proceeds available to Empowerment Zone Communities.

“Thank you to Governor Nathan Deal, CIM, Invest Atlanta, the members of our Administration and the many community, public and private-sector partners who have worked tirelessly over several months to bring this historic redevelopment plan- the single largest development in our city in nearly 50 years- to fruition," Mayor Bottoms also was quoted as saying.