Moderated by Tom Sabulis
The Atlanta Beltline recently completed a strategic implementation plan that will guide the project’s build-out through 2030, focusing first on acquiring the real estate needed to complete the transit and trail loop around Atlanta. Today, the Beltline’s new CEO writes about how they hope to accomplish all that needs to be done. In our second column, a development sector leader writes about how infrastructure investments large and small can pay off and make a difference in communities around metro Atlanta.
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By Paul F. Morris
Nothing on the scale of the Atlanta Beltline has ever been attempted or accomplished in the Atlanta region. It is wildly ambitious. New transit, parks, trails, housing, economic development, public art, brownfield remediation, sidewalks and streetscapes – these are the core components of the Atlanta Beltline, and together they are transforming our city and catalyzing a renewed region. The more progress we make, the faster people want it.
This voracious appetite for more progress is understandable considering the results to date: The first seven years of the program generated a roughly 3:1 return on investment, with more than $1 billion in private redevelopment spurred by roughly $350 million of investment from public and private sources, much of it during the Great Recession.
The Atlanta Beltline has added seven miles of paved multi-use trails, 200 acres of new and renewed parks and greenspaces, remediated more than 70 acres of brownfields, committed funding to 259 units of affordable housing, and advanced critical planning, environmental review and real estate acquisition for transit. For the past four years, the Atlanta Beltline has produced the largest temporary public art exhibit in the city’s history – Art on the Atlanta Beltline – including the 2013 Lantern Parade with an unprecedented number of more than 10,000 participants.
These impressive returns continue to attract public and private investment. Most recently the City of Atlanta received an $18 million TIGER V grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the development of a 2.5-mile portion of the Atlanta Beltline Westside Trail in southwest Atlanta.
At the end of 2013, the Atlanta Beltline released a Strategic Implementation Plan that details how the entire program will be implemented by 2030. This is a significant milestone for Atlanta’s signature urban redevelopment and transportation effort. Community input from a year-long planning effort helped inform our next priorities and we are excited about the new projects that are moving forward.
Two overriding principles guide our plan. First, we will work on all program components simultaneously. Second, we will work across all parts of the Atlanta Beltline at all times to make sure that every community is realizing the tangible benefits of the program in an equitable manner.
Over the next five years, the highest priority is to acquire all of the real estate needed to close the 22-mile transit and trail loop. Presently, we have control of 56 percent of the 22-mile transit corridor and 72 percent of the 33-mile trail corridor.
Planned construction activities over the next five years will include completing the southern half of the Westside Trail from Washington Park to Adair Park and commencing construction on the Southeast Trail from Glenwood Park to Adair Park. Park construction plans include the completion of Boulevard Crossing Phase II, Enota and Murphy Crossing. Within five years we plan to begin construction on the first segments of modern streetcar/light rail transit on the east and west sides of the Atlanta BeltLine as part of a network with extensions of the downtown Atlanta Streetcar that will open later this year.
In addition, we will take a more proactive approach to affordable housing and economic development to bring more jobs and improve quality of life. Public art, which has been critical to our success to date, will remain a focus.
This is an ambitious, achievable set of goals.
Underpinning our ability to implement them is public support, based on a foundation of upwards of 50,000 passionate advocates who follow the Atlanta Beltline’s progress via social media and e-news, volunteer their time and invest their resources, and inform critical decision-making via a robust public engagement process.
They, in turn, energize public and philanthropic funders inspired by the desire of Atlantans to transform their city. As stewards of the public’s vision and investment, we invite their continued input and participation.
Paul F. Morris is president and CEO of Atlanta Beltline Inc.
By Michael Paris
Construction cranes dot the metro Atlanta landscape once again, representing investment in development and redevelopment in our communities. Supporting each is a foundation of infrastructure that was years – often decades – in the making.
From the region’s Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) inside the Perimeter and out, from Atlanta to Cobb to Perimeter and Gwinnett, every story of progress begins with master planning and continues with public-private collaboration to realize increased walkability, transportation mobility, transit accessibility and more greenspace. Many communities in less urban settings have made similar strategic commitments. The results include improved areas in which jobs and other economic opportunity are being created.
Data abounds: The Perimeter CIDs have invested $146 million of combined public and private funding in transportation infrastructure improvements, realizing a return on investment of 4.7 to 1. More than $1 billion in private redevelopment has been spurred by roughly $350 million of infrastructure investment along the Atlanta Beltline from public and private sources. More than half a billion dollars of investment in the Cumberland CIDs has improved quality of life and doubled or tripled commercial and residential real estate values. The Town Center CID has leveraged $30 million of income into more than $133 million worth of valuable improvements in its district. Meanwhile, the Gwinnett Place CID not only yields approximately eight dollars in return on investment for every dollar invested, facilitating the construction of the Metro region’s second Diverging Diamond Interchange among other critical improvements.
Similarly, our local government’s investments through SPLOSTS, TADS and redevelopment efforts are paying great dividends.
As bookends to our north, Cobb and Gwinnett have invested $3.6 billion in SPLOST funds over the past 30 years on transportation improvements and quality of life projects. The $68 million redevelopment bond recently approved by the citizens of Marietta will allow the City to buy aging apartment complexes on Franklin Road and sell them to private developers for redevelopment – a move that will attract businesses and jobs to Marietta in a prime real estate location.
The common thread throughout these success stories, which stretch across our region, is the vision of creating infrastructure that supports both commercial and residential development resulting in job creation and attractive lifestyle opportunities. The CIDs and the Atlanta Beltline have demonstrated that companies seek established places to invest for their future. We see these companies’ investments drawn to places where a sense of confidence and certainty is underpinned by long-term partnerships between the business community and local government.
The metro Atlanta region offers a variety of working and living environments from intown to the suburbs, and it is important that we continue to pursue what’s right for each market – and recognize that one size doesn’t fit all. But the facts are clear that attention to infrastructure in all categories yields success. The investments illustrated in the region’s major nodes can be mirrored throughout metro Atlanta at the appropriate scale to enhance those communities and fit their individual needs.
We have more work to do for sure, but we should be very proud of our successes to date. Every time we carefully invest in our infrastructure, the return to our economy is positive. We need to tie together regionally the positive steps we’ve taken with mobility investment in particular and take advantage of our recovering economy today, sustaining our region for decades to come.
Michael Paris is president and CEO of the Council For Quality Growth.