New Opportunity Zones Designed to Spur Economic Development

By Joseph F. Strength, special to Business in Savannah

Earlier this year, the U.S. Treasury Department approved Governor Nathan Deal’s nomination of portions of Savannah and surrounding areas as Opportunity Zones under The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The Opportunity Zone Program was established to spur economic development and job creation in designated communities by providing meaningful tax deferral and abatement incentives to investors, and it is likely to trigger new investment activity within the Opportunity Zones.

This new economic development tool provides for deferral for short- and long-term capital gains for existing investments in nearly all asset classes (including stocks and bonds and similar investments) if the capital gain portion of a sale of those investments is reinvested within 180 days in a Qualified Opportunity Fund. The program further provides for possible abatement for all future gains within a Qualified Opportunity Fund.

The tax on the deferred gain will be due on the earlier sale of the investment in the Qualified Opportunity Fund or on December 31, 2026, in the amount of the lesser or the remaining deferred gain (following application of any earned basis step-ups) or the fair market value of the investment in the Qualified Opportunity Fund. Additionally, if an investment is maintained in a Qualified Opportunity Fund for five years, the investor will receive a step-up in basis equal to 10 percent of the original deferred gain, and if the investment is maintained for seven years, the investor will receive an additional five percent step-up in the basis of the deferred gain. Significantly, any post-investment gain in the Qualified Opportunity Fund is excluded from gross income if the investment is held for 10 years or more.

A Qualified Opportunity Fund is a partnership or corporation created to invest in eligible business and property development that is located in an Opportunity Zone. The fund must maintain at least 90 percent of its assets in Qualified Opportunity Zone Property, which can include stock, partnership interests, and business property located in an Opportunity Zone, including commercial buildings, equipment, and other forms of property, and the investment must trigger new business use or significant redevelopment activity within an Opportunity Zone.

The U.S. Treasury Department is drafting additional details regarding the certification process for Qualified Opportunity Funds. It will be worthwhile to continue monitoring these developments, as the program offers significant planning opportunities for investors and promises to generate additional long-term investment in our community. Future updates and a link to a map of the Opportunity Zones in Savannah and other areas may be found by visiting www.opportunityfundgeorgia.com.

Joey Strength is a partner at HunterMaclean and practices primarily in real estate and development law, estates and trusts, and business transactions. He is a trusted advisor to his clients, ranging from individuals to publicly traded companies, and provides them with quality legal representation and advice across various areas. Joey strives to understand his clients’ personal and business needs to find creative solutions to their legal problems.

This article is for informational purposes and not for the purpose of providing legal or tax advice. If you are interested in pursuing a project in an Opportunity Zone, or investing in a Qualified Opportunity Fund, consult with an attorney and accountant following these developments.