The city fathers in Warner Robins have longed for a conference center and hotel complex for years. Wisely, they have not gone to great financial machinations to acquire one. The discussion is heating up again and one of the options being considered is employing the EB-5 program run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In a nutshell it allows investors and their families to apply for a green card if they invest in a commercial enterprise in the U.S. It requires them to invest a substantial amount of money in a business that could “plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.” The minimum cost for buying a green card in this program is $500,000. Several investors are grouped together, if necessary, to meet the financial needs of a project and to comply with the program’s guidelines.
That option has made some in Warner Robins uncomfortable. We don’t know if it’s the foreign investment part or the green card part. Or it could be the competition part that is inherent when any new business comes into an already competitive marketplace. However, there are several other options city leaders can consider. While the city can offer tax, land and other incentives, it does not want to invest a penny in the construction, operation or management of the facility. That’s smart. They at least know what they don’t know. Developing the site and running a hotel and conference center is best left in the hands of those who do it for a living.
Now the question becomes, why haven’t private hoteliers jumped at the chance to build a conference center and hotel? Is the location — next to City Hall — the best available? The newest properties have been built farther west on or near the Ga. 247 Connector. Do the hoteliers know something City Council and the mayor need to know?
Mayor Randy Toms aims to find out. He’s foisted the idea of hosting a forum (maybe at one of the hotels) and inviting regional and local developers to see if there is any interest in a downtown hotel/conference center. That’s a good move. They will be able to share what they are looking for in a site and he will be able to share what the city can assist them with. It may be the EB-5 program remains a viable option if there’s no local interest, but even foreign investors are not in the business of losing money. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is clear that those who decide to use the EB-5 program have to do their own due diligence before making any investment. And that’s good advice for anyone.