McDONOUGH — The Henry County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of a memorandum for a contingent agreement between the county and a developer looking to build an arena and convention center in the north end of the county.
The BOC voted 4-2 for the agreement, with dissenting votes coming from Gary Barham and Johnny Wilson. The agreement concerns a developer, Forest Development Group, donating around 80.68 acres of land to the county for the purpose of what is referred to as a “municipal conference site,” provided a feasibility study, paid for by the developer, states the site could house what is proposed.
According to Patrick Jaugstetter, the attorney for Henry County, the only obligation that the county would cover is the cost of the feasibility study if the county goes in a different direction, provided the feasibility study indicates the area would be suitable for the site.
However, if the feasibility study determines the area is not suitable for the site, the county would not have to reimburse the developer for the price of that study.
That feasibility study will be performed within four months, Jaugstetter said.
“We are literally on step one of a 10,000-step process,” Jaugstetter said. “You got to start somewhere, and a place to start is one with no obligation, no harm and no skin off your teeth.”
The proposal includes an arena, a 50,000-square-foot convention center “and associated uses,” according to the memorandum of terms.
While the size of the arena was not stated during the meeting itself, plan documents indicated a 10,000-seat facility.
This would be similar in size to the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, which has hosted everything from the biggest stars in music, the Atlanta Gladiators ECHL hockey team, the Georgia Swarm lacrosse team, and even events hosted by the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the WWE.
In fact, that arena was mentioned several times at Tuesday’s meeting — Jaugstetter said a feasibility study would look at a number of similarly sized arenas, including that one and the Macon Coliseum, and the cost to operate and maintain similar facilities.
The map also includes a number of new hotels, offices, parking decks, restaurants, a 50,000-square-foot “innovation center,” and an area for a future mass transit connection. Currently, MARTA has no presence in Henry County.
The area would also include proposed residential lots involving single-family units, apartment homes and senior units.
The area is located in the area where Interstates 675 and 75 branch off near the Stockbridge city limits and is bordered by Walt Stephens Road, Flippen Road, and Ga. Highway 138. Most of that area is undeveloped but features a handful of residential properties.
Bruce Holmes, the commissioner that represents the area, championed the move as a way to get away from additional warehouse development in Henry County.
“This development submitted a (Development of Regional Impact study) for millions of square feet of warehouse space, and they went before planning and zoning a few months back to move forward with it,” Holmes said. “They have committed to move away from the entire warehouse development for a quality of life development that would change the entire landscape of Interstate 75 and the businesses we’d attract.”
Holmes suggested that warehouses in Henry County make up more of a tax base in the county, by percentage, than any other county in the state.
“We’ve talked about diversifying from warehouses, and this would be an awesome way to do so,” Holmes said.
Concerns about what the arena, the surrounding facilities and the associated feasibility study would cost were sticking points for both Barham and Wilson.
“It’s a good project, but I can’t support something that may put the taxpayers at risk,” Wilson said.
Wood, who voted in favor of the memorandum, also expressed concerns with how much the project would cost taxpayers as far as building and operating costs, and said she wanted the feasibility study to cover that matter as well.
This development has switched locations since it was first proposed. Several months ago, the BOC approved a memorandum of understanding to build a similar facility in the Jodeco South region, with some commissioners pledging SPLOST dollars to help get the project built, provided that the city of Stockbridge de-annexed the land.
However, Stockbridge city leaders, having just come out of a high-profile deannexation battle with supporters for a new city of Eagles Landing, balked at the idea of de-annexing land that was set aside for their own mixed-use project.
In addition, the Henry County SPLOST Committee declined to recommend any funding for a convention center or arena, after the group found no feasibility study had been performed, and after hearing complaints on multiple occasions from residents that the inclusion of a convention center would lead to SPLOST V’s failure at the polls in November.
On Tuesday, there was no mention of SPLOST funds pertaining to the project, and county officials said they would not have any financial obligation at this point.