|By David Wickert, The Atlanta
Journal-ConstitutionMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 26, 2012--A Norcross company has proposed building a $57 million upscale hotel at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, an attraction convention officials say would boost attendance at concerts and other events.
Nilhan Hospitality would build the Marriott hotel at the county-owned facility at no expense to taxpayers. The firm is seeking a long-term lease of property at the convention complex for $1 a year.
The Gwinnett Convention & Visitor's Bureau Board of Directors, which operates Gwinnett Center for the county, voted Wednesday to recommend the deal. The county Board of Commissioners will have the final say.
CEO Preston Williams said the company's offer is attractive because it involves no county investment. Nilhan Hospitality already planned to build a hotel across the street from the convention complex and had private financing and an agreement with Marriott in hand.
"They're going to build it across the street or they're going to build it here," Williams said.
County Commissioner John Heard recently resigned from the convention board and agreed to recuse himself from voting on the hotel because he has become a consultant to DCT Group, a company involved in Nilhan Hospitality.
Williams said Heard's connection to the company played no role in the selection of Nilhan Hospitality for the contract. DCT Group President Chuck Thakkar said Heard is not involved in the Gwinnett Center hotel project.
Gwinnett Center includes a convention center, ballroom complex, a performing arts center and a 13,000-seat arena. It hosts about 600 events a year, drawing 1.2 million visitors.
A hotel has long been planned for Gwinnett Center. Convention officials say an on-site hotel will help them compete for large events organized by groups that don't want attendees at off-site hotels, even one across the street. The convention bureau sought bids more than four years ago, but the poor economy delayed the project.
Nilhan Hospitality submitted one of four proposals the convention bureau considered. One of the four proposals didn't include enough detail to be responsive, according to Jeff Sachs, managing partner of Strategic Advisory Group, a consultant that helped review the proposals.
Sachs said the other two proposals sought public financing.
"We wouldn't be moving forward if they were asking for money," Sachs said.
Though Gwinnett would lease the property for the hotel at just $1 a year for 99 years, Sachs estimated the hotel would generate about $64 million in hotel occupancy and property taxes over 30 years.
If the Board of Commissioners agrees to move forward, more negotiations will follow. Thakkar said it would take 18 to 24 months to build the hotel. He said it would employ 170 people and create another 300 to 350 indirect jobs, mostly in construction.
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