New tax break could benefit planned tourist attractions

June 24, 2011
Atlanta Business Chronicle

A host of major tourist attractions stand to benefit from a lucrative state tax incentive that becomes law on July 1.

Under legislation signed by Gov. Nathan Deal last month, developers of projects from a Disneyesque sports complex near Cartersville, Ga., to the Atlanta Eye to a mega-shopping center along the Georgia coast could qualify for a sales tax refund worth 25 percent of their construction costs.

“This will be the biggest tax incentives legislation ever passed in this state as it relates to jobs for tourism,” said Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, chairman of the Georgia House of Representatives’ Economic Development and Tourism Committee. “This is going to make a difference.”

But opponents of the Georgia Tourism Development Act criticize the economic wisdom of handing out tax breaks during a recession while questioning the philosophy of using tax dollars to help business people get richer.

Eric Tanenblatt, senior managing director at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, which is working with the team of developers on the proposed Atlanta Eye project, said the precedent-setting nature of the tourism incentive will dictate a go-slow approach.

“I imagine a great deal of thought is going to be given to the first projects deemed to qualify for it,” he said. “[But] the goal is to promote tourism, which is a huge economic engine of the state. If you’ve got the tool in the toolbox, you should use it.”

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