Riverwalk, Williams and Cobb: Not their finest hour
by Dick Yarbrough
January 10, 2014 11:41 PM | 1924 views | 2 2 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dick Yarbrough
Dick Yarbrough
Mega-developer John Williams must be getting his public relations counsel from a turnip.

What could have been a good news story about a new development in the Cumberland/Galleria area has turned into a PR nightmare for Williams; his consultant, Tad Leithead who doubles as chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District; the Development Authority of Cobb County and Cobb Commission Chair Tim Lee?

Williams wants the authority to approve a 10-year property tax abatement for his proposed $103 million “Riverwalk” project. Legitimate questions are being raised about the project and the more questions that arise, the more John Williams comes across as a petulant bully. Maybe he should fire his turnip.

Williams says if he doesn’t get the incentives he is demanding, he might just take his development and go elsewhere. To that, I say don’t let your fanny get wet slogging across the Chattahoochee to that paradigm of efficient and effective government known as Fulton County. (Insert joke here.)

This may come as bad news to Mr. Williams, but we are likely to survive in Cobb County without him or his project. With the proximity of the proposed location to the proposed Atlanta Braves stadium, I have the feeling others will jump at the chance to develop the area and not thumb their noses at us while doing so.

No doubt that Williams, like a lot of successful people, is used to getting his way. He has been touting all he has done for Cobb County in the past — and he has done a lot — but that doesn’t get him or the DACC a free pass on this deal, which by the way, doesn’t meet the county’s minimum requirements for creating 25 jobs and contributing $500,000 to the tax digest.

Leithead is to public relations management what Elmer Fudd is to duck hunting. He claims in a letter to Michael Hughes, director of Cobb’s Office of Economic Development in an Oct. 9 email uncovered by the MDJ via a Georgia Open Records Request, that the development would create 400 new jobs with 150 being new to Cobb. Not so, said Cobb’s Finance Director Jim Person. He told Hughes that “(my) assessment is that no employees would be added. Because of this, I would not be in favor of recommending offering an incentive as I do not think the current ordinance would allow such an offer.”

Doesn’t someone owe us the Unwashed an explanation of the disparity in the numbers?

I’m guessing it won’t be Lee who sent a letter to Williams rejecting his subsidy request but urging him to continue seeking “other incentives,” and then went silent. Maybe he feels strongly both ways.

The decision by the authority to grant Mr. Williams his tax-abatement was news to the cash-strapped Cobb County school board which would stand to lose an additional $4.3 million in tax revenues. Nobody on the authority saw fit to let the school board know.

Now the authority is offering a compromise of $139,299 in property taxes to the board during the three-year construction period for Riverwalk and has passed a new communications policy that states it should alert the school board of pending tax abatement applications.

However, the authority says it “yet may, for causes shown, waive this policy in part or in whole or impose different or additional requirements, by adoption of a resolution in accordance with the Development Authority Law.” That is legal-beagle talk for giving the school board the sleeves out of the authority’s vest.

If John Williams and his posse give a sou about my opinions, I would suggest his reputation is taking a beating that will more than outweigh the reported benefits of Riverwalk. He may win his case in the court of law where Senior Judge Michael Stoddard will hear arguments in Cobb Superior Court on Jan. 17 to approve bonds to underwrite the tax abatement, but Williams and the development authority have already lost in the court of public opinion by their haughty handling of the proposal.

And while Lee whistles past the graveyard, he should understand that the kind of attitudes on display in the Riverwalk project could very well carry over into the negotiations with the Atlanta Braves and their proposed move to Cobb County. Team officials have done everything right to this point in time, but you can bet that opponents of the move will use Riverwalk as an example of an out-of-touch government that doesn’t listen to the people and that plays by a separate set of rules for the rich and famous.

Is summation, Riverwalk has not been John Williams’ finest hour or Cobb County’s, either. Even a turnip knows that.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
January 13, 2014
Thank you, Mr. Yarbrough. You nailed. John Williams apparently thinks we cannot live without him.

Surprise! Move along, Mr. Williams.
Cobb Taxpayer
January 11, 2014
Bulls-eye on very large /turnip / target!
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