Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor approved a purchase option agreement with Atlanta-based Jacoby Development, Inc. at a public meeting Wednesday morning, representing a small — but significant — step forward in the development of a proposed $1 billion-plus mixed-use project abutting Paga Mine Road.
Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson said the agreement is for about 260 acres, representing a total land acquisition investment of more than $5 million.
“Jim Jacoby’s group has been looking at doing a large mixed-use development in the Paga Mine area, a combination of private property and property that the County currently owns that they wish to buy,” he said. “They needed this in place to continue their negotiations with all the other investors … they wanted to have a document that gave them the right to purchase the land if we could come to an agreement.”
“They were asking us to get the TAD done by December of ’18, and we did, and I thought something would move forward in ’19 — and nothing did,” Olson said. “We’ve still got to get a detailed memorandum of understanding (MOU) before we do a TAD and commit to a TAD, we want to see the numbers and the investment and timeline and all that stuff.”
The agreement signed last week includes a two-year option. Olson said there’s a possibility developer Jim Jacoby — the mastermind behind Atlantic Station and the Porsche headquarters at Aerotropolis Atlanta — may officially purchase the property by the end of the year.
“What we’re waiting to see is the details,” Olson said. “They’ve described in general terms for the last couple of years that they want to have a downtown-type environment, with streets and retail and residential over retail … a little further out would be the residential neighborhoods, one may be a senior living, one may be a high-end neighborhood like the ones in Waterside.”
Olson said Jacoby has been in discussions with major, national builders — among others, Del Webb and PulteGroup — about possible investments in the ambitious Bartow mixed-use project.
And the project, Olson said, seems to have drawn the interest of at least one country music icon.
“They’re talking to Kenny Rogers’ estate,” he said. “Kenny came down here a couple of times and he was interested in investing in this deal.”
Olson said another idea discussed for the proposed development would entail relocating the Georgia Music Hall of Fame to Bartow County.
“So the collection of music memorabilia’s housed at the University of Georgia, I believe, so that’s just another idea [Jacoby] had,” he said. “We’re not going to build the museum, but if he wants to build a museum here for the Georgia music industry, we’d be all in favor of that.”
As for the total scope of the proposed financial investment, Olson said early pro formas tabbed the project at more than $1 billion. That includes as many as 6,000 residential units, comprising upscale single-family residential homes, senior living and downtown area condos and hotels.
“The difficulty in this is the home developers don’t want to build if there’s not what I’m calling a ‘downtown area,’ if there’s not the mixed-use, city center concept,” Olson said. “They feed off each other — the city center needs people to live there and shop at the stores and the homes need the city center to make it an interesting place to live.”
The mammoth project, Olson said, would likely take seven to ten years for a full buildout. And that 260-acre development, he added, could be just the beginning.
“It’s going to get bigger than that,” Olson said. “Eventually, they would add several hundred more acres to that as they expand it further to the south … of course, they probably can’t say for sure what the ultimate size would be.”
But before that vertical development can arise, Olson said the developer is staring down some steep infrastructural costs.
“There’s probably $30 million in grading that would need to be done,” he said. “And they would want to see Paga Mine Road improved to kind of a nice three- or four-lane avenue, and there would be water and sewer costs.”
Ultimately, Olson said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the total horizontal development bill for the project eclipsing $70 million — which is one reason why both the developer and the County pursued the TAD designation.
“We like the TAD, really, better than tax abatements because it’s putting the public money to use for infrastructure in a project that’s going to generate more revenue and more opportunities, more jobs, more nice places to live — if the project doesn’t come, the TAD doesn’t get spent,” he said. “They’re committing to that investment, or else nobody will lend them money to fund the TAD. The market is holding their feet to the fire to make sure that, if I’m a banker or a hedge fund and I’m going to loan you this much money, you have to put all this investment in so that you generate the tax revenue to pay back the bonds.”
As for potential State incentives, Olson said the developer does have some options, such as Georgia Tourism Development Act tax credits.
“There wouldn’t be any other incentive from the County,” he added, “you can’t get a tax abatement if you’re asking for a TAD, because it’s the taxes that fund the TAD.”
The local government, Olson said, is still awaiting a “master plan” for the project.
“It could be any day,” he said. “We’re ready to move forward and look at the proposal when they’re ready to show us their hand and give us all the details when they’ve got it pinned down.”
Whether or not the development moves forward, Olson said the County will maintain a green space zone around the Etowah River — in fact, he said Bartow will apply for a grant from the State’s outdoor stewardship program for that very purpose.
“If we get the grant approved this year, that’ll be the first thing going, where we create this sort of two-mile-long linear park,” he said. “And we’re even conceptually looking at maybe a bridge across the Etowah over to the Indian Mounds property, if the State will agree to that.”
Of course, ambitious, multi-million-dollar projects have been proposed near the Paga Mine Road area in the past, such as the Avatron Smart Park.
“We’ve had other big plans that have fallen through … all I can say is Jacoby’s got a good track record with Atlantic Station and the Porsche headquarters down there by the airport,” Olson said. “I think he’s fully committed to it … if people like big, national builders start putting in hundreds of millions of dollars to get their land developed, I would think they would have the confidence that it’s going to succeed.”
Time will tell when — or if — Jacoby’s massive mixed-use project comes to fruition.
But if it does, Olson said the economic impact on Bartow would be tremendous.
“The vision I’ve seen for the downtown is magnificent, it would be a beautiful, desirable kind of thing, like you see going on in big cities, like [Alpharetta’s] Avalon or Atlanta, all those kinds of cutting-edge, mixed-used developments," he said. "It does make me go a little bit ‘Wow, are we really going to be able to land that here on this former mining property?’”