As the deadline to take action approaches, those behind the project to redevelop the former GM site in Doraville are seeking to meet with the entire DeKalb County school board to gain support toward an infrastructure program to fund their vision.
The city of Doraville and the DeKalb County commission are backing a tax allocation district (TAD) to fund some $180 million in infrastructure costs at the project site, just north of the I-285 and I-85 interchange. The site is being imagined as a miniature-city including office towers, shops, restaurants, parks and housing with connections to the nearby MARTA station.
However, so far the school district has denied requests for a formal presentation and developers say without their support, their overall vision is in jeopardy.
“Without the TAD, we could have the movie studio, car dealerships, strip malls and other fringe construction,” Doraville City Manager Shawn Gillen said. “But we could not achieve the original vision.”
If the school board does not come onboard to help create a TAD to fund the project by June, Gillen said they will proceed using other methods, but at the cost of the total vision.
Doraville Mayor Donna Pittman said there is concern over the site being a void in the city, and would simply like to be afforded the opportunity to present their case for a TAD to the entire school board.
“How can you make a decision when you have not heard all of the information?” Pittman said. “We want to collectively get together in the coming weeks to answer questions and correct misunderstandings that are out there.”
Those misunderstandings include an idea that the project will happen regardless of the school district coming onboard, Gillen said. He said other TADs have gone nowhere without the support of the school district, which controls a large portion of county tax dollars.
Other misconceptions surrounding the project involve the amount of money the school system would receive, that they would actually lose money or would be deferring revenue. Gillen said all of those are not true.
DeKalb County School Superintendent Stephen Green has previously said the school district is in the business of teaching and learning, not in “speculative, unpredictable real estate projects.”
Pittman said this project presents the school district with an opportunity to improve the system and those in it by creating more schools and thousands of new jobs.
“We have more challenges than ever in DeKalb schools [...] but there is no real funding to fix all of the problems,” Pittman said. “If you are in the business of education, here is your opportunity to make it better.”
Gillen said over the 25-year lifetime of the TAD, the school district would see increased revenues over $100 million, with additional revenue generated by the halo effect of development outside the site’s boundaries.
The TAD would work by selling bonds to finance infrastructure and development costs. These bonds are secured by additional property taxes resulting from the redevelopment of a property, which allows city to charge the cost of constructing public infrastructure directly to the businesses that use them.
Gillen said utilizing a TAD over other options is preferable due to its cleaner, faster nature that will ultimately create more revenue and build beyond the immediate infrastructure, including improvements like roads, tunnels and other public projects that would help connect development to public transportation.
DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce President Katerina Taylor said the chamber supports not only this TAD but all such economic development tools.
“We want to collaborate so in the end this gets built,” Taylor said. “We want to end up on the right side of history.”
“I remain optimistic, even here in this final hour,” Pittman said. “I am going to get on the phone and start calling people individually to ask for a meeting.”