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Bills past due in Gateway

By Justin Boron

In expectation of a hotel and conference center, the Gateway Village project accrued $517,000 worth of bills in pre-construction expenses.

Originally, those bills would have been paid out of the bonds the county planned to issue to build the hotel.

But now that the estimated $28 million bond issue is in a holding pattern, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners must decide how much of the money owed will be paid.

At Tuesday's county commission work session, Lou Hisel, the chairman of the Clayton County Development Authority, brought a proposal to commission requesting that it authorize payment of $475,000 of those bills.

He said at the meeting that the reputations of both the authority and the county are dependent on the bills being paid.

”These bills need to be paid,“ Hisel said later. ”Some of them are more than a year overdue.“

The payment would come from money taken out when the county refinanced another set of bonds for the project.

The decision on payment is part of a broader look at the project. The scrutiny, Commissioner Charley Griswell said, needs to be given before the commission makes a decision on the project as a whole.

He said the money for the bills wouldn't be a waste because the commission hasn't given up on the idea of a hotel and conference center.

But Griswell said the commission needs to take a closer look.

”I'm not going to do anything as far as my vote until we sit down and look at it again,“ he said.

Commissioners plan to take a tour of Gateway Village project when Hisel said the Development Authority hopes to bring them up to speed and establish better communication between the two groups.

The Development Authority, which operates much like a private corporation, has overseen development of Gateway Village for which the commission issued $28 million worth of bonds in 1999. Since then, national and state archive facilities have been built on the site in Morrow. But much of the property has gone unsold and undeveloped.

The county commission eventually will have to make a decision on the final direction of Gateway. Because without a conference center, Hisel said the development of the property is questionable.

”It's always been the keynote of Gateway,“ he said. ”Without the anticipation of a hotel and conference center, I don't think we would have the archives. I don't think we would have the post office.“