County Officials met with representatives of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs on Tuesday to discuss the current status of the “Great American Travel Plaza”, a convenience store building that has been constructed just east of I-75 on Georgia Highway 16. Last year, the state agreed to make $500,000.00 worth of funds available to the project to help bring sewerage to that part of the interchange and which would service the convenience store; however, the funds would only be made available if the developer of Great American, Mr. Ataollah Masoodzadehgan, met certain conditions.
“The basis of an Employee Incentive Program award is that the proposed project has to do certain things that will create jobs” said Michael Brewer, Interim County Administrator on Tuesday. “In this case, our being able to get the EIP funds were contingent upon Mr. Masoodzadehgan’s project creating 55 full-time equivalent jobs, 49 of which had to be available to low and moderate income individuals. In order to guarantee the State’s investment, he was also required to provide either a Letter of Credit or a performance bond equal to the amount of the EIP award. This basically made sure that if the state funded the program on the promise of jobs created, that the state would not lose their money should he fail to deliver the jobs required”.
In August of 2010, Mr. Masoodzadehgan signed a commitment letter agreeing that when the time came, he would abide by the conditions necessary to allow Butts County to apply for state investment funds. The Commissioner’s Office, working in partnership with the Butts County Water and Sewer Authority, applied for two funding awards that would allow the Water and Sewer Authority to expand the sewer lines where needed at the 16 & 75 interchange. In addition to the EIP funds, a OneGeorgia funding award was also obtained for an additional $500,000.00. In exchange for his participation, the Water Authority and the County agreed to provide assistance measures that would have saved the developer in costs to complete the project. Combined, the local incentives offered an equivalent cash savings of nearly $200,000.00
Since the terms and conditions were different with the OneGeorgia funds, the Water Authority was able to use those funds to complete the first phase of the sewer expansion. However, when the time came for Mr. Masoodzadehgan to fulfil the obligations for the County to receive EIP funds, he was reluctant to sign the bond or provide the necessary letter of credit required by the State.
A series of discussions between the developer and former County Administrator Alan White were initially productive but the developer requested changes to the design of the store that would allow for the inclusion of diesel pumps capable of servicing commercial transit vehicles. This would have changed the scope of the project from an auto/RV travel plaza to that of a truck stop which was inconsistent with the zoning of the interchange. County officials had taken strong measures in recent years to protect the interchange from truck stops by creating a zoning overlay district for area that specifically prohibited businesses that catered to commercial transit vehicles.
“It was the feeling of the Board at the time this was done that we had enough truck stops at the 75 and Georgia 36 interchange” said Brewer. “Their desire for the 16 interchange was to guide development that would have an emphasis on quality retail, restaurant and related commercial growth. Having an interchange that draws the large tractor-trailer vehicles would not have been conducive to the type of development we need there because shoppers don’t want to get off the interstate where they are going to get mired down in heavy truck traffic” he continued. “The County stood firm on its position that the diesel pumps would not be incorporated into the design of the travel plaza”.
“The developer was given several deadlines to sign the performance bond” said BOC Chairman Roger McDaniel “but at the end of the day, the State could not wait any longer for the EIP project to begin. They issued what is known as a “Slow Progress” letter to the County last month that required us to report back to them what the anticipated project completion timeline would be and the reasons for the delays. Given this and their requirements of the developer that he had not met left us with no other recourse but to notify DCA that Mr. Masoodzadehgan had defaulted on the terms of the funding award and that we could not draw on these funds under those conditions”.
McDaniel, along with Commissioner Mike Patterson, Interim County Administrator Michael Brewer and Community Services Director Doug Manning met with Brock Smith and Irette Patterson of the Department of Community Affairs who agreed that the decision of the County was the best course of action due to having reached an impasse with the developer. In a communication sent Wednesday, Irette Patterson stated that “Since the developer will now not commit to creating the jobs as originally stated and committed to in the EIP application, the County wishes to deobligate the Employment Incentive Program (EIP) award. DCA will not penalize Butts County for future funding if EIP funds are deobligated. Each EIP application stands on its own merit. Even though this project did not come to fruition in spite of the County’s concerted efforts, this circumstance will not affect the consideration of future EIP applications”.
County officials will submit the paperwork to deobligate the funds within the next week.