Atlanta’s major tool for urban renewal to be retooled by city council – in 2013

By David Pendered

It’s slow going, but there’s light ahead in Atlanta’s effort to retool its major urban renewal initiative, which is generically described as the TAD program.

The Atlanta BeltLine will lease from the state this bridge and its out-of-service railway that cross Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. leased this bridge across Martin Luther King Jr. Drive as part of its effort to promote a trail system around the city. File/Credit: David Pendered

Starting in early 2013, the Atlanta City Council expects to consider a range of reforms that stem from a city audit into Atlanta’s program of tax allocation districts. The council’s final joint hearing this year is set for Wednesday, and the topic is how to determine when the work of a TAD is complete.

The council has been working since its receipt in May of an audit that portrayed Invest Atlanta as a rogue agency when it came to overseeing the TAD program. Since then, the council has cut the agency’s proposed budget, communication has increased, and Brian Leary was ousted as head of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. – which is an offshoot of Invest Atlanta.

Without commenting on any specifics, Councilwoman Felicia Moore, who chairs the council’s Finance Committee, said:

“We’re making progress. It’s slow. The best thing about it is that we’re not letting go. Often, when you get an audit and make recommendations, you move on to the next thing. That’s not what we’re doing here.”

The most significant changes are likely to affect the rules by which the city and Invest Atlanta work together, Moore said.

As the city’s redevelopment arm, Invest Atlanta operates under its own bylaws. As a creature created by the city, Invest Atlanta has responsibilities to the city.

“We’re waiting for the mayor’s office to come back with a proposal for an intergovernmental agreement,” Moore said. “We’ve outlined where we want to go. It’s a lot of work. We’ve accomplished a little bit. We haven’t formally done any of it.”

One formal change that has occurred is the clarification of the agreement between Invest Atlanta and BeltLine, Inc. Invest Atlanta formally created a corporation named Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. for the purpose of developing the public portions of the BeltLine.

Atlantic Station - 3

Atlantic Station was built with help from the urban renewal program that is in line for reforms to be enacted by Atlanta City Council. Credit: Atlantaphotos.com

The Invest Atlanta board approved two amendments in October. One amendment specifies the general responsibilities and the programmatic responsibilities for each party – Invest Atlanta and BeltLine, Inc.

The issues with Invest Atlanta arose six months ago.

City Auditor Leslie Ward released an audit that portrayed Invest Atlanta as a rogue agency when it came to overseeing the city’s TAD program.

Issues the audit identified included:

  • The status of $226 million sitting in city coffers, such as whether the money was earmarked for specific expenses;
  • A need for more accounting of the use of taxpayer dollars;
  • A need to reevaluate redevelopment strategies in light of current economic conditions.

As city auditors were looking into Invest Atlanta, Invest Atlanta was in the midst of its own, internal, audit of the TAD program.

However, the city auditors never were notified that Invest Atlanta had its own independent review underway. Those same consultants are to make a presentation Wednesday to a joint session of the council’s Finance and Community Development committees.

At least some of the issues can be traced to the city’s widespread adoption of TADs during the go-go days of intown development. Evidently, TAD management did not keep pace with all of the TADs’ demands in an era the city was routinely approving the use of millions of dollars of TAD funds to redevelop Atlanta’s urban core.

A TAD, or tax allocation district, is a state-sanctioned redevelopment tool. Local governments are authorized to create special tax districts. property taxes collected on new developments within TADs can be used to pay for public amenities that will make the district more attractive to additional development.

Hence, the BeltLine TAD uses proceeds on new developments to help pay for parks and trails. The Westside TAD uses proceeds to help pay for the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
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