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Commissioners give first nod to hotel

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Commissioners gave a preliminary nod to a proposal to build a hotel at the Gwinnett Center, giving assurances that ethical questions have been answered.

With Commissioner John Heard, who works for developer Chittranjan "Chuck" Thakkar, abstaining from the vote, three board members voted to pursue a deal that could bring a 300-room full-service Marriott to the county-owned Sugarloaf Parkway campus.

A headquarters hotel is expected to draw more convention business to the center, bringing 210 direct jobs and $71.2 million in county, schools, hotel and sales taxes over the next 30 years, according to a consultant.

"This is a very unusual situation we find ourselves in," Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said of the bid submitted to the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, seeking to build the $57 million hotel without any financial assistance from the county.

Thakkar, of Nilhan Hospitality, had already set up funding, including $30 million in federal recovery bonds, to build the hotel on another corner of Sugarloaf's busy intersection with Satellite Boulevard. He decided to pursue the project at the Gwinnett Center site after discussions with Heard. Earlier this year, Thakkar hired Heard, an architect, to work on other projects, and Heard resigned from the convention and visitors bureau board.

According to an affadavit submitted at Nash's request, Thakkar said Heard was paid $10,000 a month for the other projects before his contract was terminated at the end of August.

"Most importantly, Mr. Heard was not paid any monetary compensation or otherwise, related to the RFP (for the hotel) or the outcome," the affadavit said.

Heard declined to talk about the vote but said he was never involved in the convention center hotel bid process.

"Having turned it upside down and looked at it from every direction ... I have come to believe this is the right decision to make to proceed with further negotiations," Nash said.

While the vote does not obligate the county to agree to a final contract, Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said he believes the tourism board should have begun the bid process anew.

"I can recognize the need for this," he said, before casting the sole nay vote. "(But), I am still concerned, extremely concerned, about the level of involvement with one of our board members. ... I have some serious questions about us going down that road again."

Ethical questions have plagued the board since 2010, when one commissioner resigned and another was indicted after a special grand jury looked into questionable land purchases. This year, former Commissioner Shirley Lasseter pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges, and was sentenced to 33 months in jail.

The convention bureau's Preston Williams said negotiations to reach a final deal could be concluded in the coming months, and leaders hope to open the hotel in the fall of 2014.

Comments

Don 1 year, 8 months ago

So some questions to ask: 1) Is the hotel going to have any of its own meeting rooms or ballroom? If so this will take away revenue for the smaller meetings that are currently held at Gwinnett Center.

2) How is building this hotel going to impact the future expansion plans of the Gwinnett Center should it needed to be expanded? Are there plans for expansion of the Gwinnett Center.

3) Are we sure there is absolutely no infrastructure changes needed to build this hotel? If there is we the taxpayers should not spend one penny on it.

4) How will this affect the small group catering revenue coming from the Gwinnett Center currently.?

5) Will the hotel have a direct enclosed connector to the convention space of the Gwinnett Center?

6) Is anyone looking at the transportation issue of getting convention attendees to the center via mass transit? Currently the closet direct bus is at Sugarloaf Mills across the interstate.

7) Has anyone thought of asking for a guarantee of some revenue from the bed tax (hotel tax) ? We need something other than just the land lease revenue to make this appealing.

8) Is the a pro-forma on the hotel indicating rates and occupancy etc.?

9) How many conventions/meeting have we lost due to no on property hotel? Who did we loose them to?

I think this concept can work as long as we ask the right questions. Currently one can rent out space in the GWCC at a lower rate than at the Gwinnett Center. We need full transparency in this plan with the land lease rate prior to approving the deal.

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gwinnettian 1 year, 8 months ago

What is the world coming to when our politicians consider it a "very unusual situation" that a businessman is willing to build a hotel without any financial assistance from the county. I know in previous articles that the developer is actually supposed to pay a whole dollar a year to rent the two acres the hotel would be built on. No one asked me, but I could have put a fruitstand their and paid them two dollars a year.

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dentaldawg83 1 year, 8 months ago

sometimes, a deal is really just a good deal...nobody has overpromised development like when the baseball stadium was proposed...just that with the hotel as part of the complex that they might be able to attract more business ....damn folks..

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