Case Study

CASE STUDY: Training for Life

7 min read

NMTC funds a future for Georgia Special Olympics 

The people at the Special Olympics of Georgia obviously expect their $5.6 million new facility, financed with the help of New Markets Tax Credits, to last. They are planning to fill a time capsule to be opened there 50 years from now.

SOGA is planning a ribbon cutting next month at the Norcross, GA, administrative/sports facility, a year after grading began at the site. New Markets Tax Credits through Enterprise Community Partners (with PNC the equity investor) provided $1.4 million in net subsidy for the construction, with the nonprofit putting up the rest from the proceeds of a capital campaign.

The 16,125 square-foot facility, called “Training for Life: Sports Lab and Center,” started being used last month, as SOGA moved its people into the 219-acre site despite a few details being not quite finished.

“We just moved in,” said CEO Georgia Milton-Sheats. “We don’t even have signage on the building yet.”

Among the first visitors were ones SOGA particularly wanted to impress, the national board of the Special Olympics, including Chairman Tim Shriver. Next, Milton-Sheats is planning a coaches’ clinic to be held there this month, the first of many envisioned events.

“It’s working out great,” said Milton-Sheats. “We love it. We have a lot more room. We have a lot more storage space.”

A lot more room was what was needed, as the group’s cramped prior headquarters was in an office park and had no athletic facility. How cramped? SOGA says it had “no athletic or training facilities, no space for on-site coaching certifications or volunteer training, limited on-site storage, no space to meet, manage and inspire our volunteer games management team members and no street visibility.”

The new headquarters has an athletic lab SOGA is calling Victory Hall. As described by Milton-Sheats, it is about half the size of a full school gymnasium and can be configured for training for basketball, volleyball, soccer, and even some of the lesser-known sports, like bocce ball. Why bocce ball? Bocce is a Special Olympics event, and the folks at the national group will tell you it is the third most participated sport in the world, behind soccer and golf.

The administrative part of the facility accommodates SOGA’s 19 full-time employees, plus one contractor and two interns presently.

What is SOGA’s impact? It says, “Through year-round training, one-on-one mentoring, Unified Sports athletics, community celebrations and state-wide competitions, the staff, volunteers and coaches of Special Olympics Georgia empower athletes to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other SOGA athletes and the community.”

The NMTC money put the project over the top. The only other financing came from SOGA’s capital campaign, which Milton-Sheats said was the first one the group had mounted since it was started in Georgia in 1970.

The chief executive said the response to the capital campaign was gratifying. “We didn’t know what to expect,” she said. The contributions came in from individuals, foundations and corporations. “They were extremely generous,” she said.

But there was still a financing gap. So they began to look at options, including tax credits.

Milton-Sheats lauded the financing companies’ role in evaluating and greenlighting the project and said she appreciated that not all projects get funded. “We told them how it would improve Special Olympics in Georgia. We were not the only ones on their radar screen, I’m sure.”

Equity investor PNC was introduced to the SOGA transaction by SOGA’s tax credit finance consultant, SB Friedman Development Advisors, according to its NMTC relationship manager, Kelly Clements.

“When I met with Georgia Milton-Sheats at the Special Olympics of Georgia offices in the fall of 2016, I was surprised, first, at how challenging it was to find their offices and, even more so, how limited the space was for their needs. It was clear that the organization needed to be in a more visible location with significantly more space that would not only allow for meetings and storage, but also for events and athletic training,” said Clements.

Serendipitous Site
Once SOGA decided it needed a new space it had to decide whether it would reconfigure an existing building or build a new one from scratch. The final decision came by serendipity, as their officials were visiting a warehouse near Interstate 85 (easy access to a big highway was one of the things they were looking for), but saw an adjacent site being used only for storage units. “We said ‘Wow, let’s walk around!’” Milton-Sheats remembered. SOGA bought the property in 2016.

“We built from the ground up,” said the chief executive, and as she described it, the construction went very smoothly. It has taken less than a year to get to move-in status, with grading starting in January and employee occupation in November.

In fact, the SOGA CEO is delighted by the construction. “We had an incredible experience!” she said. The architect was Lyman, Davidson Dooley Inc. of Marietta, GA (the firm also has a location in Tampa, FL) and the general contractor was Winter Construction Co., which is based in Atlanta.

Milton-Sheats is also happy that the athletic lab makes Georgia one of only ten or so state branches of Special Olympics to have such a facility, putting it in the vanguard of state Special Olympics chapters.

“The project will also allow SOGA to serve an additional 400 people per year—beyond the 1,000 per year they serve currently—to provide vision, hearing, oral health and bone density screenings,” said Clements.

Enterprise Community Partners, founded 35 years ago by housing visionaries Jim and Patty Rouse, said the new building “will also serve as a hub for collaboration and brainstorming, public events and volunteer training.”

Enterprise’s $7 million NMTC allocation “will help the Special Olympics of Georgia grow the number of lives touched by their work,” it says. “The new headquarters will allow them to expand their impact by hosting 500 statewide sporting competitions each year, providing 1,000 health screenings annually and increasing the number of Special Olympic athletes to 29,000 throughout the state.”

The financing partners in the new facility both have a lot of experience with NMTC projects. Enterprise is part of a partnership that announced this year that it is providing $8.8 million in NMTCs to help Honor Capital’s project of operating Save-a-Lot grocery stores to double in size to ten stores in six states.

Honor Capital is a veteran-owned group that seeks to stimulate veteran entrepreneurship and food access for low-income families.

PNC also is a significant player in the NMTC arena. It has $628 million in NMTC allocations under management and works actively with community development entities. The firm says it is “an active investor through third-party CDE relationships with expertise in closing multiple transactions with CDEs.”

It also can provide Historic Tax Credits to NMTC deals. And it finances QLICI (Qualified Low-Income Community Investment) deals in community facilities, commercial, retail and mixed-use real estate, among others.

Though it got no historic credits on this deal, SOGA clearly believes the new facility will be a big part of its history.

An Eagle Scout built a memory chest as a project to be given to the group, and SOGA is going to fill it with things, like Special Olympics medals, letters and program books from various events. They believe that Special Olympics, and its Georgia headquarters, will still be going strong when they open the time capsule 50 years from now.

Story Contacts:
Georgia Milton-Sheats
CEO of Special Olympics of Georgia

Kelly Clements
New Markets Tax Credit relationship manager, PNC Bank.

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.