County mulls tax deal for water park

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 15, 2016

By Tyler H. Jones

LaGRANGE — The Troup County Board of Commissioners is set on Tuesday to consider a resolution endorsing a bid by Great Wolf Lodge to apply for a state tourism tax incentive program.

Great Wolf is a Wisconsin-based company with 14 locations and is considering building a water park, adjacent hotel and conference center near Interstate 85’s exit 13 on Whitesville Road.

The tax incentive program, defined under the Georgia Tourism Development Act, is a state sales and use tax incentive for tourism development projects, according to the state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the program.

It aims to create or expand tourist attractions within the state and lower unemployment by preserving and creating jobs through sales and use tax refunds offered by state and local governments.

If approved by the state, a portion of local-option sales taxes, or LOST, collected at Great Wolf — excluding sales taxes collected for education — would be rebated back to Great Wolf to pay off bonds used to finance construction of the 400-room hotel and water park resort.

Normally, LOST is used to rebate property taxes paid by land owners.

Three other tourist destinations in Georgia have been approved to participate in the program, according to the Department of Community Affairs.

LaGrange City Council approved a similar endorsement last week and Great Wolf submitted a pre-application for the program in October and was invited in November to submit a formal application, according to Cherie Bennett, economic development program manager with the Department of Community Affairs.

Great Wolf is expected to submit the application by the end of the month, according to city and county officials.

The departments of Community Affairs and Economic Development must approve the application and Gov. Nathan Deal must give the final OK for the application to be approved.

If everything goes according to plan, the Great Wolf resort could be up and running by Thanksgiving of 2017, officials have said.

The resort may create as many as 400 jobs, but it remains to be seen how many are full-time employment, or if those jobs provide benefits like health insurance or paid vacation.

Local officials have said the resort could attract as many as 500,000 people to LaGrange each year, and Thomas Harrold, an Atlanta-based attorney representing Great Wolf, has said the average nightly resort population is about 2,000 at Great Wolf’s 14 other locations.

The LaGrange Development Authority met in October and approved a $170 million bond issue for the resort and hotel. That bond is backed by Great Wolf’s credit and does not have public liability.

The conference center would be funded with a $17 million taxpayer-backed bond and the city of LaGrange would own it, Hall said. Great Wolf would have a 50-year operational agreement to manage the conference center.

Great Wolf’s target audience is middle and upper-middle class families of four, according to Harrold.

Tyler H. Jones is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.