I generally oppose public tax breaks for developers and owners of sports franchises, but the $5 billion plan for the downtown Atlanta gulch would transform the city.
The Atlanta City Council is receiving praise for delaying Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' proposal to give the Los Angeles-based CIM Corp. up to $1.75 billion in tax reductions to build a massive mini-city at the desolate tangle of rail lines and parking lots near Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
CIM owner Richard Ressler, the brother of Hawks owner Tony Ressler, wants to build a $5 billion complex of offices, apartments and retail stores at the site.
While the council's stance is a rare show of independence for a body that historically follows the mayor's bidding, they are short-sighted in their refusal to back Bottoms' endeavor. And now, rather than carrying out its responsibility to make a decision on the plan, the council will spend tax dollars for an outside evaluation.
As Gov. Nathan Deal pointed out to the AJC, the tax incentives would come from taxes the CIM complex will generate if it is ever completed. The tax revenues wouldn't come from the current city budget. While CIM would get a break from the taxes that most businesses have to pay, the project carries an especially high risk. A huge platform would have to be raised above the gulch, creating a new cluster of city streets. CIM's investment would be huge in a long-lagging area of downtown.
It's true that CIM's concessions to the city don't sound that valuable. The company promises to build a certain percentage of "affordable housing," which is often difficult to determine. It would build a new fire station, but presumably the city would have to pay the salaries of firefighters to staff it. Ressler's concept gives little priority to the long-promised multiimodal rail station. But the development would revitalize downtown, whether or not Amazon chooses Ressler's complex for its second headquarters site.
Former Invest Atlanta board member Julian Bene claims the CIM complex would suck away demand for any others in the city. Bene's fears are unfounded. If anything, the CIM plan would spur further metro area development. Projects in hot spots like Buckhead, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and East Cobb would keep coming.
Of course, overambitious projects have crashed over the years. CIM's development could be a huge white elephant of empty office space and residential units if an economic slowdown occurs.
But Ressler's plan is worth the risk. Atlanta has shown such spirit in landing the Olympics and building Hartsfield-Jackson Airport into the largest in the world.
Wouldn't a shining new city be better than the huge gash that has wounded downtown for decades?