Cobb Development Authority splits over $159.5M bond for mixed-use project near Battery

Nov. 25—CUMBERLAND — The Development Authority of Cobb County narrowly advanced a $159.5 million bond request this week for a mixed-use development and hotel across from Truist Park.

The bond inducement resolution — the first formal step toward a bond issuance and tax breaks — passed 4-3, with board members J.C. Bradbury, Karen Hallacy, and Jamala McFadden opposed.

The trio pointed to open questions about the number and quality of jobs that would be created by the project, with Bradbury and Hallacy adding they believed the proposal by developer Goldenrod Companies would be built with or without public financing.

Goldenrod owns most of the series of parcels along Circle 75 Parkway where the development would be built. The firm plans to tear down the eight-story building at 1000 Circle 75 Parkway, the smaller structure adjacent to the 16-story 1100 building, which houses the Cobb Chamber of Commerce headquarters. Goldenrod also plans to purchase a neighboring parcel owned by the Atlanta Braves.

In its place, the firm proposes to construct two towers, branded as "the Henry." The first would be parallel to Circle 75 Parkway and include retail on lower floors, upscale apartments overhead, and a pedestrian bridge connecting to the Battery Atlanta. The second would likewise feature retail and a 250-room hotel.

Goldenrod representative Zac Marquess said the firm is in talks with Marriott to operate the hotel, while the apartments would be targeted to "high earners." All told, the development would be about a $500 million project.

The nearly $160 million in bonds would only finance the retail and hotel portion of the development, along with infrastructure improvements. Included in those improvements is replacing a detention pond on the Braves-owned property with an underground stormwater vault.

Goldenrod's would be one of several new hotels proposed for the Cumberland area. The Smyrna City Council last year approved a 188-room Hilton near the intersection of Cobb Parkway and Spring Road, while the organization that owns and operates the Cobb Galleria is hoping to eventually redevelop the Galleria Specialty Shops into a hotel.

'For consideration'

But development authority board members raised some eyebrows at Goldenrod's claims that the development would create 350 new jobs with an average salary of $55,000 per year.

"I'm struggling with this," said Hallacy. "We usually try to support bringing in high tech, or headquarters, or things that are going to generate jobs of that caliber. This is not generating jobs of that caliber. This is generating hotel jobs and retail jobs."

Chairman Clark Hungerford advised Goldenrod that because job figures included in a bond agreement are legally binding, "You need to be very comfortable that, if that's what you've got in your submission, that is at least the number you would have, if not more."

Bradbury meanwhile prodded Marquess on why the firm had brought the proposal to the authority in the first place.

"Why are you choosing this particular location? ... We've got plenty of development down here. We just subsidized $300 million to build a ballpark down here that has a halo effect, so we don't need to be doing this incentive," Bradbury said.

Marquess replied that because of the steep terrain of the Braves-owned site, the firm needed a large enough project to absorb the cost of developing it.

"And that affected the price you paid for it when you bought it, right? Because it wasn't very developed? So you got a lower price, right?" Bradbury asked. "...You want us to help sort of make it more valuable."

Replied Marquess, "For everybody's benefit, right?"

Even those board members who voted to advance the proposal hedged their support, saying they agreed the project needed closer examination. Board member Courtney Knight said he'd vote to advance, "but understanding that it's got to come back as they continue to develop their project to talk with us about things like wages, and the development process overall."

Hungerford admitted he "wouldn't ... say that I'm really excited at this point."

"But at least after hearing what they're talking about, and how it would fit in to support this area — if that's what in fact it would do — probably gives it some merit for consideration," Hungerford said.