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$350M veterans project stalled

CONYERS - Organizers seeking to build a $350 million, mixed-use residential complex to house veterans announced recently they will suspend their efforts as a result of the troubled economy.

Jo Carter-Harbin, executive director of Newton-Rockdale Veterans Inc., said the Board of Directors decided to place the project in "a state of moratorium."

The group announced in April 2008 plans to raise money to build a campus for single-family homes, assisted living centers, nursing home care and additional care for special-needs veterans. The goals announced then included the acquisition of 500 acres for the housing campus. The estimated cost for the project was $350 million.

The veterans housing project would be the first of its kind in the nation in scope of services offered. Carter-Harbin said the veterans group viewed the local effort a model project to be replicated in other parts of the country.

Housing would be constructed on a central campus with ancillary services including medical offices, pharmacy, emergency medical care, physical fitness/therapy, business and conference center, library, dining, security, chapel, laundry and social and recreational outlets.

A site for the campus had not been selected.

However, Carter-Harbin said the depressed economy was the reason for the veterans group decided to halt the project.

"Some veterans are having a very hard time financially, and when we have veterans struggling for the money to pay for their homes, many were finding it difficult to believe or think that we would be out trying to raise millions of dollars for a place like this," she said.

Carter-Harbin, who was named executive director of the group in January, said she was disappointed with the decision and hoped the project will be restarted soon.

"I had just begun to open doors in Washington (D.C.)," she said. "Right now is the time (for this project), as far as I'm concerned. It's time because we are at war, and we have many veterans who are going and coming and having such tremendous needs, especially when they return."

Carter-Harbin added that veterans services has attracted new attention in Washington since President Barrack Obama took office, and she found federal legislators to be receptive to the idea.

The Newton-Rockdale Veterans Inc. Board of Directors will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. today in the Maxwell classroom of the Conyers First United Methodist Church.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com