A special called meeting between the Development Authority of Douglas County, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners and a team from Foxhall Sporting Club and Resort was held last week to give an update on the project that would include a Westin Hotel, villas and a conference at the south Douglas resort. The public was invited, but no action was taken at the meeting.
According to Chris Pumphrey, executive director of the Development Authority of Douglas County (DADC), the Board of Commissioners already authorized the development authority to issue the bonds for a proposed conference center at Foxhall when approving the Inter-governrnental Agreement (IGA) in 2016.
He said he doesn't know if any changes will need to be made to the agreement, but if so, the change will not involve the development authority increasing the bond amount of $40 million for the conference center. If changes are to be made, Pumphrey said they would only allow for the funding sources to invest in the project.
"We will not be asking to change the $40 million," he said. "If there are changes, it won't be changes to the $40 million or any risk to Douglas County. We are not on the hook with the bond in Douglas County. We are not in debt with the project."
In 2016, four commissioners agreed to an IGA for authority to issue $40 million in revenue bonds for the project, in what has been described as a public-private partnership.
During the presentation, it was reiterated that the financing structure poses no risk to the county.
Harrison Merrill Jr., chairman and CEO of Foxhall, said that interest in the area has "put us on the map for development success."
Merrill brought with him several members of the Foxhall team, including Allen Morris of The Allen Morris Company, one of the largest diversified real estate firms in the southeast; Jim Stormont, of Atlanta-based Stormont Hospitality Group, a turnkey developer of luxury and first-class hotels, conference centers and resort properties.
Upon completion, a 200-room Westin Hotel and Conference Center and 250 villas will be contracted on 95-acres of a 1,000 acre tract on Capps Ferry Road in Douglas County.
Westin is one of the 30 brands which are part of Marriott International.
Merrill said Foxhall is transitioning from a wedding event venue to a resort and to that end, brought in Joe Meyer, who previously managed a boutique resort in Charleston, South Carolina.
He said they are drawing more corporate events and retreats at Foxhall, going from wedding and social groups to corporations such as Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
"With the Georgia Aerotropolis Corridor between the airport and Foxhall, we are catering to the south side of the county," he said.
Jim Stormont said, "When you look at Chateau Elan, Callaway Gardens and Barnsley Gardens, they are regional resorts with different attributes. Douglas County has the advantage of being 30 minutes from the world's largest airport. This is a vastly growing part of the Atlanta metro area. Douglas County is not a stand-alone county."
Based on 2018 room bookings, 5,000 nights occupancy is projected at Foxhall, with 48 percent for year one, and it will continue to grow to a stabilization rate of 68 percent, Stormont said.
Foxhall's master plan calls for the project to be completed in seven phases. While Phase 2 is almost completed, they are about to begin Phase 3.
Phase I of the project was completed in early 2017, according to Merrill, with the opening of The Paddocks, a farm-to-table restaurant, and eight villas with 16 rooms and tennis/swim center.
Currently in progress, Phase 2 will add 58 rooms, including two cottages, and 14 luxury suites. Build 2 is expected to be complete by early summer. The clubhouse plus 24 additional lake cottages will be built once the infrastructure for the project is in place.
Phase 3 is supposed to begin this summer, as infrastructure is complete, and will include building a leadership center, a clubhouse -- serving as an anchor of the villas that will feature a large kitchen and event space.
Phase 4 will include a 200-room Westin Hotel, which Foxhall has been working on for the last few years, said Merrill.
"We're looking to break ground during the first quarter of 2019, along with a 50,000 square foot conference center," Merrill said.
Pumphrey said the phasing will allow Foxhall to book rooms now as they move forward.
He said work on the infrastructure should begin this year and would be phased in as well.
"Critical partners are working on the development agreement and when we need to go forward," he said. "In planning for water and sewerage, there are conservation standards to take into account as it flows along the Dog River basin."
Pumphrey said as they move forward, they want to focus on "holistic economic development."
He said, "We will take a methodical approach to economic growth in the area by doing it the smart way, not developing all the land to serve other parts of the basin and through conservation."
Pumphrey said the project will expand sewer service not just to Foxhall, but all the way to St. Andrews due to a partnership with the Douglasville-Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority.
"The $40 million serves Foxhall and also goes west to St. Andrews. This will be additional funding to come in to serve those areas," he said.
He said, "I'm excited about starting a new gateway into Douglas County," Pumphrey said. "I feel really good where we are. We're not on the same timeline we were before, but are moving forward."