A year and a half after announcement, more questions than answers surround massive development in Emerson

JACOBY’S JACKPOT: County anticipates more details on mixed-use project this fall

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Jim Jacoby, founder of Jacoby Development Inc., is not an easy man to get a hold of. 

For the last year and a half, The Daily Tribune News has contacted his front offices several times to arrange an interview about his plans for the massive “Villages at Red Top” mixed-use development, which purportedly would contain 2,000 residential units and as much as one million square feet of commercial, retail and restaurant amenities.

Alas, all of those phone calls and emails yet again went unanswered in the run-up to the 2019 edition of DTN's annual special section Progress.  But it’s not just The Daily Tribune News that isn’t hearing much out of the Jacoby camp these days — Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson also said news on the proposed Emerson development has been mum for quite some time.

“What we’ve seen is a lot of conceptual work on the proposed development — we’ve seen some schematic master plans and some general information,” he said. “What we haven’t seen are the detailed plans. We’re being told they’re working on that, they’re hoping to bringing us more detail in the fall.”

Late last year, Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor approved the creation of the Etowah-Allatoona Economic Corridor, which includes the proposed 1,000 acre-plus footprint for Jacoby’s development — referred to as “Etowah Highlands” in a redevelopment plan authored by Bleakly Advisory Group. Per that document, the mixed-use development built atop the old Paga Mine property would contain “a wide-range of commercial land-uses including extensive retail development [and] restaurants — focused both on a newly created downtown/main street area and along the main roadways serving the site.”

That “city center” component of the project, which would include replicas of some of America’s most famous downtown areas, greatly appeals to the County, Olson said. 

“We like the general concept we hear about, about a mixed-use with a nice downtown, trying to look like Beale Street in Memphis and Bourbon Street in New Orleans,” he said. “But we haven’t reached any agreement or signed any MOUs — we haven’t even seen a draft of what they’re looking to invest and what they’re asking for from the County.”

But as for the total size and scope of the project, Olson said County officials remain in the dark. 

“They’re talking to potential investors in both the commercial and the residential portion,” he said. “The acreage they have under contract from the private sector is, I think, around 600 acres. We’ve got about 450 — what amount of that 450 they might want to be involved in has changed, so we don’t know the answer there.”

To help facilitate the project, the City of Cartersville recently de-annexed about 265 acres near Paga Mine Road back to the County — which, in turn, is likely to re-annex said acres into the City of Emerson, thus putting the entirety of the proposed Jacoby development under the jurisdiction of one municipal government.

So interested in bringing the project to fruition, the County ended up making it a ballot issue. Last year, Bartow County voters approved an item that allows the County government to create tax allocation districts (TADs) — which Olson said is instrumental in getting the groundwork started on Jacoby’s gargantuan development.

“The structure they’re going to propose, I know, is going to be a bond where the future increment is pledged to pay the interest on the bond, and the bond would be issued up front to get all the development done,” Olson said. “So if you’ve got to do $25 million of road, water, sewer and remediation work … the investor has to be confident that the investment’s going to generate the taxes to repay the bond.”

Tax revenue from the Etowah-Allatoona Economic Corridor — which, according to the Bleakly Advisory Group report, “could leverage $1.4 billion in new investment” over the full buildout phase — will begin to be collected this fall. 

“The value was frozen as of Jan. 1, so they’ll pay their taxes and all of that will just get distributed as it normally does,” Olson said. “Next year, if there’s any increase, then that would go into the TAD fund … if some agreement has been reached by then and there’s something to spend it on, that money would go into improving the infrastructure, improving Paga Mine Road or putting in water and sewer or remediating the tailings.”

Yet as Olson noted, that increment will not be generated until some actual investment occurs. 

“That’s where the market provides a lot of protection, because nobody’s going to loan $25 million or whatever it might be on a TAD without being confident that the investment’s going to come to generate the taxes to repay the TAD,” he said. 

According to the Bleakly report, the proposed corridor would produce an “incremental taxable value” of $523 million, generate about $73 million in additional personal property tax digest and create 1,894 new jobs, with an estimated payroll of more than $68 million.

Considering the total fair market value tax digest of all residential and commercial/industrial property in Bartow is about $10.2 billion, Olson said that proposed $1.4 billion investment in the corridor would have a monumental impact on the local economy.

Still, Olson said he’s going to hold off on making any predictions until he sees something more concrete from the Atlanta-based developer.

“If you’re talking a couple hundred-thousand square foot of retail and commercial, you’re talking about a considerable amount of sales tax and a considerable amount of jobs,” he said. “So if you’re talking about a couple of hundred million dollars investment, that’s a significant increase to the tax digest, and it would be a significant increase to the amount of sales tax generated.”

As for residential investments, Olson said he’s heard Jacoby is interested in bringing in a massive senior-living development, which could include upwards of 900 units, as well as a spate of detached, single-family homes comparable to those at the Village at Waterside.

“The downtown area would have some condos or apartments over retail,” Olson said. “Kind of an urban Savannah kind of look.”

But the timetable for all of that, Olson noted, hinges on Jacoby — and Jacoby alone. Considering the topography of the area, he said horizontal development would likely take a year, at the very least.

“If we can get an agreement on some kind of deal and they’re ready to get going, say by the end of the year or the first of next year, I would see it taking a year or two to get the first phases built,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of work to remediate the mining sites, there’s tailings, ponds … all of this unstable, kind of quicksand-like soil. I’m not a construction guy, but you can watch the amount of work LakePoint took to get that land in shape — it’s a year or more, probably, of just big yellow machines moving before you’d see vertical development.”

If Jacoby’s vision pans out, Olson said the final product would undoubtedly be a crown jewel for Bartow County. And whereas other major developments in the area — most notably, the cancelled Avatron Smart Park project — have petered out, Olson said there’s plenty of reasons to believe Jacoby will succeed where previous entrepreneurs have faltered.

“There’s always challenges with developments, as we’ve seen with other developments, but we’re optimistic that he can pull it off, if anybody can,” Olson said. “Jacoby has got a track record of success with Atlantic Station and other developments. He was involved in the Porsche headquarters down by the airport, so that’s what is exciting about working with him — he’s got a track record of making the things happen that he says he’s going to make happen.”