Commission expected to vote again on movie studio

The Henry County Board of Commissioners is expected to vote again on a proposed agreement between a local developer and the county, to bring a movie studio to Tara Field in Hampton.

The vote is expected during today's regular meeting, at 6:30 p.m., in the Community Meeting room of the County Administrative Building, at 140 Henry Parkway, McDonough. An earlier vote on the proposal ended in a 3-3 tie, and therefore, the proposal could not go forward.

Billy Abbate, managing partner of Big 5 Enterprises, LLC, and Atlanta Film Studios, had asked for "credit enhancement" which would have benefited financial arrangements for the project designed to use hangars on the airfield property for movie production.

Commissioners Monroe Roark and Randy Stamey voted for the request. Commissioners Reid Bowman, Johnny Basler, and Warren Holder opposed it. Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis tied the vote.

Holder said he was worried about the financing structure Abbate requested during the May vote. He said he has since learned more details surrounding the financing structure of Abbate's request for credit enhancement for the project. "As far as the credit enhancement and the public liability, I had concerns about that," said Holder. "I feel much more comfortable with this."

In light of the previous vote, Bowman said after Monday's meeting he also feels more confident about Abbate's proposal. "I voted against it the first time, because I felt there were too many gaps in the agreement," he said. "This is not the same resolution that was brought to us before. We're voting on a totally new resolution."

One of the major changes in the new agreement includes a letter of credit from the developers, rather than just verbal commitments. The agreement brought before the commissioners on Monday states: "The aforementioned development agreement shall include the provision of a current and enforceable letter of credit in the amount of $15 million from a Class A rated banking institution guaranteeing the developer's share, $15 million, of the initial debt issuance."

County Manager James "Butch" Sanders said the requirements spelled out in the document are clear. "These items make the development agreement very transparent, and open for all to see," Sanders said.

The Tara Field Project will have an initial capital investment in the county of over $30 million, and is estimated to generate 300 direct jobs and 2,000 indirect jobs, according to the development agreement.

Basler said he still is unsure of the details of the agreement. "They secured a lot of the issues, but I still have concerns with it," he said. "I'm still trying to process it."

Mathis said she still supports the idea of movie studios at Tara Field. "This is not binding until such a time as a development agreement is brought back and approved by the board, and then adopted.

I still believe this project is in the best interest of Henry County," she said. "By casting my vote to create a tie, I felt it would give the commissioners, who were opposed, time to find an acceptable agreement. It appears that this has happened."

District I County Commissioner Warren Holder asked Abbate if he accepted the requirements of the proposed agreement. "Are you agreeable to what's in this resolution?" asked Holder.

Abbate answered in the affirmative. "If we elect to pursue the public financing ... in the agreement willfully agreed upon here, yes, we are in agreement with these terms," said Abbate.

Abbate first made his request before the commission earlier this year, said Sanders.

"This has been an item which has been discussed and re-discussed over time, where we have tried to come to an agreement that could do several things," Sanders told the commissioners. "[It would] both allow for the reasonable expectation of the successful project at Tara Field, as well as protect the county taxpayers and satisfy each of the board of commissioners with an agreement that is acceptable to all. I feel like we've come to a point where we have what I would term a very positive resolution, both for the county, and Mr. Abbate's group."