DULUTH -- After working on a proposal to build a hotel at the Gwinnett Center, Commissioner John Heard stepped down Wednesday from the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau board.
Heard informed the board and commission in January he was helping prepare a proposal for a public-private partnership sought to build a headquarters hotel at the Sugarloaf Parkway convention center.
Officials said Heard did not help formulate the GCVB's request for proposals or give developers any inside information.
But he said his work as a consultant -- "in the $100,000-plus range" -- was expanding to other local hotel projects, so he stepped down from the tourism board.
In recent weeks, GCVB officials have begun preliminary discussions with Nilhan Hospitality to build the hotel. Nilhan includes two major partners: Concord Hospitality and DCT Systems. Heard works as a consultant for DCT Hospitality's Chuck Thakkar and was part of the team that prepared the proposal.
Former Commissioner Tommy Hughes, a member of the tourism board, said Heard is "doing the stand-up thing."
Another tourism executive board member Richard Tucker said Nilhan's proposal stood out about the four submitted last month, mostly because it had $60 million in financing in place, with no request for county funds.
"It's a huge economic development announcement when and if it comes to fruition," he said, advising fellow board members to "dampen our euphoria" until the details are worked out and a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners has been made.
"I'll abstain on anything coming up related to the hotel," as a commissioner, Heard said.
Heard, an architect, said he has been involved in hotel discussions near the Gwinnett Arena since the GCVB proposed building one several years ago. But the project fell through when the economy soured.
A year ago, he approached Thakkar, who planned to build a Marriott at the nearby intersection of Sugarloaf Parkway and Satellite Boulevard (land that includes the Delta Community Credit Union), about moving the venture to the Gwinnett Center.
GCVB CEO Preston Williams said Thakkar's interest, along with another developer, caused the tourism group to issue the request for proposals to see if the economy had improved enough to restart the project.
Williams said Thakkar had secured recovery zone bonds through the Gwinnett Development Authority for the previous project and planned to use it for the Gwinnett Center hotel.
A full-service "headquarters" hotel at the convention center, he said, would help draw major conventions to the community.
"If the deal can be had, it's a really good deal, and it will certainly accomplish what our vision is," he said of the proposal, adding that the GCVB's executive board is working on a term sheet to propose to Nilhan.
While the building has not been designed, Williams said the $60 million proposal matches the 300 rooms the GCVB sought. It would also include a restaurant, valet, spa and other services.