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Development troubles befall longtime businessmen
SunTrust holds loan on the property
A road weaves through undeveloped lots in the Windsor Forest off Ledan Road. The Gainesville subdivision, owned by Gainesville businessmen Don and Doug Carter, was recently foreclosed on.

The economic downturn has caught up with longtime Gainesville businessmen Don and Doug Carter.

Windsor Forest, a northwest Hall subdivision that had been developed by the Carters, is in foreclosure and is set to be sold Tuesday on the Hall County Courthouse steps.

"It's an unfortunate situation. It's not anything I would wish upon certainly ourselves or anybody in this community," said Doug Carter, who became chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's board of directors in January.

Doug Carter sat down Thursday to talk about the history of the development off Ledan Road a couple of miles west of Thompson Bridge Road, as well as Carter & Carter Inc.'s fall on hard times with the property.

"This is a piece of property that we had owned for a number of years and, dating to 2004, we made the decision that the timing was right to develop it," he said.

"I'm proud of the job we did developing it. We annexed into the city so it would be on sewer, 30 of the 91 acres are permanently protected green space (and) we put in sidewalks," said Doug Carter, whose father, Don, is a majority partner in the company.

The two also own and operate Don Carter Realty, a real estate sales and brokerage company founded in 1965.

"This (subdivision) was going to be a nice addition, and it still will be a nice addition to the Gainesville-Hall County market," Carter said.

He said he is proud he and his father haven't followed the trend of other developers pulling out of town without keeping up the property. Homes have been built on seven of the 90 lots, the grass has been cut and a top coat of asphalt is in place.

"I feel like we were responsible in the way we developed it," Doug Carter said.

The Carters had 50 to 60 prospects as the project began.

"Some were builders. Some were individuals," he said. "We were moving ahead and advertising open houses. About that time, the slowdown in the economy started occurring.

"The first impact we saw was that individual buyers were not able to go ahead and buy a lot out there."

Lots were first advertised at $70,000 to $120,000 apiece.

"We felt like we did everything right. On paper, this project looked great," he said. "Our cost per lot was in an acceptable range. Truthfully, this (development) should have been a home run, had the world not fallen apart."

SunTrust Bank holds the loan on the property, taking it over from Gainesville Bank and Trust.

In May 2008, GB&T Bancshares, parent company of Gainesville Bank and Trust and six other community banks in North and Central Georgia, voted to accept a merger with SunTrust.

Carter said he has spent the past two years trying to work out an agreement with SunTrust, all the while hoping the housing market would improve.

Also, during that time, "we made interest payments as long as we could, until a point we realized the loan was called," he said. "It would have been cheaper and easier to have thrown up our hands three years ago when this all started going downhill."

In addressing developers' financial troubles, Hugh Suhr, SunTrust spokesman, said, "While we cannot discuss specific relationships, generally speaking we work with our clients on a case-by-case basis, taking into account various factors that are unique to each situation.

"In any event, we view foreclosure as an action of last resort."

Going forward, particularly in his Georgia Chamber role, Doug Carter said his experience reflects on some key economic issues in the state.

"We have got to continue to find ways to create jobs," he said. "... We've just got to put our best face forward, because every other state's in the same boat. We're all going to try to come out of this (downturn) the best we can."