Search for new Atlanta BeltLine CEO close to naming five finalists

By Maria Saporta

The search for a new president and CEO for the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. is heating up.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Friday morning that a group of nine finalists were interviewed this week for the job of overseeing the redevelopment of the 22-mile mostly-abandoned rail corridor that surrounds downtown Atlanta into a vibrant area of area of parks, trails, residences, retail, work spaces and eventually transit.

The BeltLine has been without a permanent leader since August when Brian Leary resigned amid controversy over some expenditures that had been charged to taxpayers.

Reed said the city soon will narrow its search for a BeltLine CEO to five finalists.

“We are going to make those five names public,” Reed said. “I think folks are going to feel terrific (about the finalists). We are not going to move forward with any search without making the five names public because the light has a good effect on the process.”

Reed spoke about the BeltLine search in an interview after a quarterly meeting of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a group of high level business executives who provide guidance and counsel to the mayor and City Hall officials.

John Somerhalder, chairman of the Atlanta BeltLine board who also is CEO of AGL Resources, said the finalists, which he said were less than the number of fingers on both of his hands, included candidates from outside Atlanta, from within the city and from within the organization — namely Lisa Gordon, who has been serving as interim CEO of the BeltLine since August and had been chief operating officer before then.

When asked about the search, Reed laughed.

“On Monday, we did four interviews during the (Atlanta City) Council vote on the stadium,” Reed said. “We interviewed five on Wednesday.”

A large portion of the ACP meeting was devoted to explaining the new stadium agreement between the Atlanta Falcons, the City of Atlanta and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority in detail.

“We think it’s important for members of ACP to understand the transaction, step by step,” Reed said.

Rick Smith, CEO of Equifax who is the new chairman of ACP, called it “a landmark transaction” for the city.

“That’s a huge win for the communities around the stadium,” said Smith, who singled out Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank.

Penny McPhee, president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, also briefed ACP’s members about how the city and the foundation is working with the neighboring communities of Vine City, English Avenue, Castleberry Hill and the Marietta Street Artery Association.

“She said they are going to plan with  rather than plan  on the community,” Reed said. “It was impactful. We think our opportunity is pretty unique.”

The next step for the stadium will be to get the Invest Atlanta board to approve the financing deal for the project, which includes issuing $200 million in bonds. At one point, the city officials had thought the Invest Atlanta board would have voted on Tuesday morning, just hours after the Atlanta City Council had voted for the project.

“I just simply wanted to give them a briefing,” Reed said. “We were not ready for a vote.”

But Reed added that he now has been able to brief Invest Atlanta’s board members and that he expects the organization to call a special meeting in the near future to act on the $1 billion stadium proposal.

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