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Friday, March 23, 2012 - 10:05am

Chatham Officials Want Answer On Hotel

A recent law makes it hard for Georgia communities to know what projects are eligible for some tax breaks.

Now, officials in Savannah's Chatham County want clarification on whether a proposed convention hotel would qualify.

Lawmakers passed a law last year giving developers tax breaks for tourism projects.

But, it gave the Governor final say on what qualifies.

An aide to Governor Nathan Deal has expressed doubts over Chatham County's proposed hotel.

County Chairman Pete Liakakis now wants a clear answer.

He says, a lack of rooms is costing the city business.

"The International Trade Center had got inquires for a large number of conferences and talked about bringing a large amount of people into the area," Liakakis says. "And they just did not have enough capacity."

Other hotels dismiss that idea and oppose competition backed, in part, by taxpayers.

Their concerns appear to have swayed the Governor's aide, Trip Addison, who wrote a letter about the tax break to State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah).

"[The letter] expressed the Governor's dubiousness of granting favorable tax treatment to a project that will directly compete with existing employers with Georgians on their payrolls," says Brian Robinson, the Governor's spokesman.

Liakakis and other hotel supporters don't believe the county's support, in the form of loan guarantees, amounts to unfair competition.

"It wouldn't be like they'd be losing business if they had those big conferences and conventions coming into town," Liakakis says. "It would bring more money in. There would be quite a number of rooms at the other hotels and motels that would be filled in."

Robinson says, the Governor hasn't received any proposals.

The Chatham County Commission now is asking the Department of Community Affairs for answers.

The agency is developing criteria to use in making recommendations on the project to the Governor.

A spokesman made a draft of those criteria available to GPB under an Open Records Request.

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