Invest Atlanta backs city’s construction boom with tax breaks


Atlanta’s construction boon is a getting a boost from a slew of development projects that recently received tax breaks from the city’s economic development arm.

Invest Atlanta on Thursday approved millions in lease purchase bonds and grants to back more than a dozen projects through its Eastside Tax Allocation District (TAD). They include the multi-million dollar remake of Colony Square in Midtown, the construction of a pair of John Portman-designed towers near Georgia Tech and the renovation of the vacant 12-story Medical Arts Building, considered one of downtown Atlanta’s most enduring and visible eyesore.

A TAD allows a governmental body to lower property taxes, offer incentives and apply loans in a defined area to try to spur economic development over a set period of time.

The projects will join several others already in the works, including the $192 million renovation of Philips Arena, the construction of the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Coda, a joint-venture between Portman and Georgia Tech.

“A lot of very hard, deliberate work has been done, piece by piece,” Mayor Kasim Reed, who is chairman of the Invest Atlanta board, said of the growing projects list. “We’re just staying at it.”

Thusday’s financial outlay comes as the city seeks to retire the Eastside TAD, which Reed said has served its purpose. The fund, which helps areas such as Midtown and Old Fourth Ward, has a balance of about $35 million and could be closed by the end of Reed’s term.

The board voted unanimously on most of the projects, but board member Bill Bozarth’s raised questions about tax breaks for Colony Square’s redevelopment. Bozarth said Colony Square is in a highly desirable location at the corner of 14th and Peachtree streets near Piedmont Park and shouldn’t need a city handout.

“If there is ever a place in my opinion that does not need public support, it’s that area,” he said to the board. “I would ask you to consider if this is a good use of public money.”

Downtown resident Kyle Kessler praised Invest Atlanta’s focus on revitalization of the city’s core, but called for more transparency on projects such as Underground Atlanta. The board signed off on a $3.6 million grant for a 180-unit four-story apartment called The Avery, which Kessler said was a surprise because there was little information about the project.

Kessler said it’s difficult for him to maintain trust of the process surrounding the Underground, which the city sold in March for $34.6 million, if the public is not kept informed.

“Let’s slow down and do the project the right way.” he said.

Invest Atlanta said many of the projects it is supporting will help to create almost 500 units of affordable and workforce housing. That is important at a time when gentrification and rising home prices are putting the city out of reach for many.

Among those projects is a new apartment building planned near King Memorial Station. The 385-unit building will set aside 25 percent of its apartments for those earning 80 percent or less of Atlanta’s average median income.

Newport U.S. RE, which is redeveloping eight blocks around Broad Street in south downtown, said it will set aside 11 of 52 units it is developing for affordable housing. Slightly more than 80 percent of the 180-unit Avery on Underground’s campus will be offered to renters earning 60 percent or below the city’s average median income.

-- Staff writer J. Scott Trubey contributed to this article.

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