David Pendered

Articles by David Pendered

Atlanta funds innovative dormitory that’s to help entrepreneurs succeed

A dormitory that’s designed to give a leg up to budding entrepreneurs is to be built at Technology Square, in Midtown, with financial aid from Atlanta’s development arm.

Invest Atlanta has agreed to fund up to $70 million in construction costs of a 230-unit building dubbed, “Tech Square Tower (the Entrepreneur Dorm)”. Only three similar dorms exist in the nation, according to Invest Atlanta – at Stanford, Columbia, and New York universities, with one more to open in 2015 at University of Florida.

The concept is to provide turn-key housing for students who hope to develop some sort of innovative idea, as well as for entrepreneurs who have an office at Tech Square. Residents are to mingle and brainstorm and have access to an on-site mentor, according to the presentation to the board of Invest Atlanta.
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Who’s tending the chicken coop? Atlanta activists question sale of public assets to private investors

The question of who’s tending the public chicken coop is arising as Atlanta moves with all deliberate speed to promote private development around the Falcons stadium and several publicly owned properties in or near downtown Atlanta – including Fort McPherson, the shuttered Army base.

The general public isn’t alone in raising questions. Atlanta City Councilmember Joyce Sheperd made this comment about the potential sale of most of Fort McPherson to filmmaker Tyler Perry: “I’m a little concerned about the fact that I first heard it on the news.”
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Atlanta Streetcar exec says year-old audio message, actual transit service will boost business at nearby shops

The top executive of the Atlanta Streetcar said an audio message recorded a year ago will be played on the streetcar to advertise shops along the route.

Tim Borchers, the streetcar’s executive director, described the audio message after Atlanta City Councilmember Ivory Lee Young, Jr. asked him how the city can help shopkeepers regain business they claim to have lost during the construction period that started in February 2012.
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Dad’s Garage Theatre to open doors in Old Fourth Ward in late 2016

Dad’s Garage Theatre is on track to move into a permanent home in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood and open its new doors as early as late 2016.

The first of two approvals needed from the Atlanta City Council was tentatively granted Tuesday, by the Community Development Committee. The council’s Zoning Committee is expected to approve the second measure on Wednesday. The full council is to vote on the measures July 21.

Dad’s Garage Theatre plans to purchase, for a price above $2 million, a building that now houses a church and some land that adjoins the church, located at 569 Ezzard Street, Amanda Rhein, who serves on the theatre’s board, said Tuesday.
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Fort McPherson area rich in human rights history, poor in redevelopment

Juanita Crater knows what she doesn’t want to happen at Fort McPherson – for redevelopment to dawdle so long the federal government decides to use the post to house large numbers of the homeless, or undocumented immigrants.

History both recent and distant underscores the relevance of concerns raised by Crater, a senior citizen of East Point who lives near the fort and is viewed as a local historian. The fort and its surroundings are not thriving; federal law requires the site to house the homeless; the fort has served as a stockade.
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New regional transit trip-planner website growing slowly, as planned

A new transit website serving metro Atlanta is an example of local agencies responding to an idea many view as sensible, and which results from legislation that wasn’t enacted by the General Assembly.

In the first two weeks after its very soft launch, on July 1, ATLtransit.org has attracted slightly more than 1,000 views.

The website intends to help transit riders plan and pay for trips that involve riding one or more of the region’s transit systems. Four transit systems and ARC decided to build the site even though the Legislature did not vote for the concept brought forward by Sen. Brandon (R-Alpharetta).
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Savannah port to expand trade to imports of South American produce

Blueberries, grapes and citrus fruits from certain South American countries are to arrive on the docks of Savannah starting Sept. 1 under a pilot program that aims to treat for pests with cold temperatures rather than methods such as fumigation.

The shipments are to begin under a USDA-approved pilot program. The treatment method already is used in states including Florida and California, according to trade publications. In Savannah, the program could bolster the port’s role as a leading way station for food entering and leaving the country.
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Fort McPherson: No talk yet of whether HUD’s existing approval would allow for Tyler Perry’s studio

The state authority overseeing the conversion of the shuttered Fort McPherson military base into a civilian use met behind closed doors for two hours Thursday before emerging to say a final deal could be secured in two to three weeks.

“We are in the process of negotiating, at this time, a possible sale,” said authority Chairman Felker Ward. “We hope to be able to conclude those negotiations in the next two to three weeks.”

One issue yet to be discussed in public is how the proposal brought by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to sell most of the fort to filmmaker Tyler Perry will affect the existing approval by HUD of a plan to retool the fort into a science center.
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Lawmakers support Clayton/MARTA deal, raise questions of equity

State lawmakers who oversee MARTA expressed a few reservations Tuesday as they generally applauded the potential of MARTA extending its service into Clayton County.

“This is a major step forward for transit in the region,” said state Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), who chairs MARTOC, the Legislature’s MARTA oversight committee. “Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come in terms of transit in metro Atlanta.”
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Leasing at Cousins’ Terminus points to rebound in region’s office market

Cousins Properties reports that it’s leased 95 percent of the Terminus project in Buckhead, underscoring the reported rebound in metro Atlanta’s office sector.

Rebound is a relative term. Rajeev Dhawan, of Georgia State University, and other economists point to the dearth of commercial construction and bank financing to contend the market has not recovered its pre-recession level.

But there’s no denying that Atlanta was mentioned twice in a generally positive report on commercial real estate issued Tuesday by CBRE Group, Inc.
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Norfolk Southern in sound position if talks begin over rail transit in its freight corridor in Clayton County

Norfolk Southern appears to be in a solid negotiating position as advocates of Clayton County’s potential transit system prepare to ask the company to allow MARTA to operate passenger trains on Norfolk Southern’s freight tracks.

A MARTA study shows that $185 million could be saved if Norfolk Southern allows use of its freight line for passenger rail service. Norfolk Southern has sent a letter to MARTA that raised a red flag over the notion that passenger service could begin in seven years at the price contemplated in the MARTA study.

The issue will come to a head if Clayton County voters approve in November a 1 percent transit tax. Clayton’s Board of Commissioners voted Saturday to place the referendum on the ballot.
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MARTA’s financial plan for serving Clayton County activated by Saturday vote to set proposed tax at 1 percent

The finances of the planned expansion of MARTA service in Clayton County gained clarity after Clayton’s Board of Commissioners voted Saturday to put a proposed 1 percent transit tax on the November ballot.

That’s because the 1 percent tax rate activates a feasibility study by MARTA, which envisioned only the 1 percent tax rate and not the 0.5 percent rate the board approved this week. The cost of rail expansion remains a significant variable in MARTA’s plan.
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Black employment gains a sign of continuing economic recovery, Ga. Tech professor says

Georgia Tech Professor Thomas “Danny” Boston said the jobs report issued Thursday by the U.S. Labor Department contains several signs the economy continues to improve.

The jobs report indicates the nation’s unemployment rate should dip into the 5 percent range when the July report is released, Boston wrote in a column posted on Georgia Tech’s website. That report is to be released Aug. 1.

The unemployment rate among blacks continues to decline, which Boston wrote is a particularly positive indicator because unemployment among blacks is, “particularly intractable.”
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Atlanta police say crime rates have decreased around college campuses

The crime rate has been reduced notably around Atlanta university campuses in the two years since the Atlanta City Council called for dramatic improvements in public safety, according to a new report from Atlanta police.

Robbery rates are down significantly around the Atlanta University Center, which the report portrays as the primary target of the police department’s College Liaison Unit.

The council acted at a time students were frequent targets as victims. The council produced 15 safety recommendations in July 2012. The effort has received scant attention since then.
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Two Rotary Clubs donate $87,000 of home medical devices to FODAC

As a new sales tax on medical devices affects consumers, two Rotary Clubs in metro Atlanta have gathered and donated more than $87,000 worth of devices to a non-profit based in Stone Mountain that distributes them at little to no cost to recipients.

The sales tax, of 2.3 percent, is part of the Affordable Care Act. The tax is projected to raise $20 billion over seven years to help pay for health care, according to AdvaMed, a trade group.
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Georgia notes record number of wood stork nests as U.S. says they no longer are an endangered species

Georgia has noted a record number of wood stork nests this year, news that the state announced as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell visited the Georgia coast Thursday.

Jewell traveled to Townsend to say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is down-listing the wood stork from an endangered to a threatened species.

“The down-listing of the wood stork from endangered to threatened demonstrates how the Endangered Species Act can be an effective tool to protect and recover imperiled wildlife from the brink of extinction, especially when we work in partnership with states, tribes, conservation groups, private landowners, and other stakeholders to restore vital habitat,” Jewell said in a statement.
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ARC board debates barring CID board members from ARC’s board as new rep from DeKalb County takes office

Competing visions of who can serve as a citizen member of the board of the Atlanta Regional Commission emerged Wednesday as the board works to update its bylaws.

Fayette County Chairman Steve Brown has asked the board to create two rules: Term limits for citizen members; and to bar citizen members from service on the ARC board if they serve on the board of a community improvement district – the self-taxing districts that have popped up around the region.

The ARC board’s bylaws working group agreed to consider Brown’s suggestions. The issue raises sensitive political issues, given that ARC Chairman Kerry Armstrong is a citizen member who serves as chairman of the North Fulton CID.
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DeKalb County school district: Credit rating stable, also wins $3 million grant from Wallace Foundation

A New York credit rating agency on Tuesday assigned a top score to the $36 million bond package the DeKalb County school district intends to sell Wednesday.

Also Tuesday, the Wallace Foundation announced DeKalb as a recipient of a $3 million grant to improve the leadership skills of its principal supervisors or regional superintendents, and to increase the number of regional superintendents in order to reduce a span-of-control that now averages 27 direct reports.

Taken together, the measures mark the continuation of the district’s slow but steady improvement from situations involving its accreditation probation and fiscal management in the 16 months since the DeKalb school board first named former state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond as interim superintendent.
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Atlanta’s bike share efforts this week set stage for planned 2015 opening

It’s not glamorous, but the work Atlanta officials are grinding out this summer is setting the stage for the city’s bicycle share program that’s to launch in 2015.

The council approved, after last January’s snowstorm, the contracts with a bike share operator and bike provider. The next step is for the city to make it legal for the bike facilities to operate. The pertinent legislation is pending for review Tuesday and Wednesday by committees of the Atlanta City Council.

The idea behind bike share is for folks to be able to rent a bicycle at a self-service facility and return it to the same facility or another location.
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Vigil precedes transit tax meeting in Clayton County, as vote to extend another sales tax looms in 2015

An interfaith prayer vigil on Monday is slated to begin an hour before Clayton County’s board of commissioners is to convene to consider putting a sales tax referendum for transportation on the November ballot.

The November time frame for the transit vote is of the essence for its advocates. If not called this year, the proposed transit tax will run into the planned 2015 referendum to extend Clayton’s existing special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST).

Clayton commissioners have until July 1 to call the transit referendum. The date is contained in a bill approved this year by the General Assembly. The SPLOST vote has not been scheduled, according to Clayton’s website.
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Tactical urbanism, lifelong community on display on Sweet Auburn Avenue

The tangible elements of a lifelong community, one comfortable for the disabled and well as the aging, are on display through Sunday along Auburn Avenue, in downtown Atlanta.

The two-block demonstration project is coordinated by the Atlanta Regional Commission, which has focused the past five years on informing metro Atlantans that the region is graying faster than many realize.

The concept ARC calls a “lifelong community” in a handbook of the same name also has taken the name “tactical urbanism” over the past few years. It’s a branch of the “new urbanism” concept that swept the region during the last decade, when new apartment buildings offered retail on the ground floors and alleys regained popularity.
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Clayton County’s transit tax vote could be set at special-call meeting Monday, on ballot in November

Clayton County commissioners could vote as early as Monday to call a referendum on a sales tax for public transportation, possibly putting it on the county’s ballot in November.

The commission on Thursday called a special meeting for June 23 at 6 p.m. The purpose is to, “discuss matters pertaining to public transportation in the county.”

MARTA GM Keith Parker and county officials reportedly met Thursday to continue discussions. The only question facing commissioners seems to be how much of a sales tax to impose – 1 percent or a half-percent. A study presented to the commission Tuesday identified the projected levels of service each tax rate would provide.
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Wall Street affirms MARTA, warns of system’s continuing fiscal dangers

A Wall Street credit rating agency has raised MARTA’s rating in advance of the system’s plan to sell $96 million in bonds on June 26.

The rating action states MARTA’s reliance on sales tax revenues as both an asset and a liability. Moody’s Investors Service cited as an asset MARTA’s gross pledge of its 1 percent sales tax, and as a liability the historic volatility of sales tax revenues – revenues that recent Georgia laws have reduced.

While any upgrade in credit is positive, Moody’s warned investors of the danger that MARTA could again raid its savings account to keep the system afloat – as was the case during the depth of the great recession.
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Chattahoochee River past, present: Two speakers part of Paddle Georgia

Two local authorities are on deck to talk about the past and present roles of the Chattahoochee River in as part of the annual Paddle Georgia festival.

The speakers are Tom Baxter, a political correspondent with SaportaReport, and Clarke Otten, a Civil War historian who focuses on Sandy Springs and overlooked aspects of the war – such as how the Union army crossed the river.

The free events are scheduled June 23 and 24 along the banks of the river at Riverview Landing, a former industrial tract in Mableton that’s to be retooled into a mixed-use community by the company redeveloping Ponce City Market in Atlanta.
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Sea turtle nesting on track to continue resurgence along Georgia coast

Another loggerhead turtle nest was reported Wednesday on St. Catherine’s Island, the latest example of the historic parade of sea turtle procreation on the Georgia coast.

The nest was the 22nd discovered this year on St. Catherine’s and was No. 284 for the entire Georgia coastline, according to figures gathered by the state Department of Natural Resources and reported by seaturtle.org.

The latest discovery continues an upward trend over the past few years of nestings by sea turtles, which are federally designated as a threatened species. Joining the search for sea turtle nests has become a popular pastime for families who vacation along the beaches in Georgia and Florida.
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Atlanta to set Streetcar fares; city to provide public input on future fare hikes

Atlanta on Wednesday is slated to enter the final phase of approving a rate structure for the Atlanta Streetcar, the same day the last of four streetcars is due to arrive.

If all goes as planned, base fares will be set at $1 a trip, $3 a day, $10 for five days, $11 for seven days, and $40 for 30 days, according to a presentation to be presented to the Finance Committee of the Atlanta City Council. Fares can be paid with MARTA Breeze cards, according to related legislation.

Atlanta has the authority to double the proposed $1 cost of a one-way ticket on the Atlanta Streetcar without public notice if the city determines it needs more money to operate the system, according to legislation to be discussed at the public hearing. Service is to be free for about three months. Continue reading

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Credit scores as social barometers, other job news from Gen Y front

Walter Jones, Jr. did all the right things in college and he’s still looking for a full-time job.

“It’s incredibly frustrating, because everything my parents taught was to go to school, get an internship, and it ends with a job,” Jones said, some six months out of Georgia Southern University.

One can only imagine where Jones fits into the pecking order of the Gen Y generation, some of whom view a credit score as a social barometer. The aching familiarity of his story was covered in a segment of a recent economic forum hosted by Georgia State University.
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A tale of a little bridge that could

A little bridge to be built in the corridor between Atlanta and Chattanooga shows that a little investment can go a long way.

The Tiger Creek replacement bridge could easily be overlooked on the list of 20 contracts GDOT let on May 16. It is less expensive than almost every other project, and is dwarfed by a third of its classmates.

But the Tiger Creek bridge was funded. That fact alone makes it special.
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Metro Atlanta on cutting edge of electric vehicles, commute options

Metro Atlanta’s traffic congestion may be a mess, but the region is at the forefront of changing the vehicles in which people travel.

Atlanta ranks No. 2 in the nation for electric car sales. Georgia Tech engineers are devising self-driving cars. Uber – the rides-on-demand service that fended off the state Legislature this year – on Friday announced it has raised $1.2 billion from investors who now value the four-year-old company at $18.2 billion.

Taken together, these developments point to a vastly different future in terms of how people metro Atlantans may commute in the future. Although the vehicles won’t be flying cars like in the Jetsons cartoon, the trajectory seems toward a very different mix of vehicles and drivers on roadways. Continue reading

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KSU farmers market latest addition to growing ranks for locally grown foods

The student-run summer farmers market has reopened at Kennesaw State University, marking another milestone in the expansion of shops for locally grown food.

The KSU market is open Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., placing it among the markets that aren’t competing in saturated Saturday morning time slot. For example, the ELF Market, East Lake Farmers Market, is open Tuesday evenings.

The size of these local markets is in stark contrast to Your DeKalb Farmers Market, generally viewed as the granddaddy of them all and preparing for a massive expansion. And the little farmers markets represent the growing appetite for locally grown food products sold in a neighborhood setting.
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Roswell Road redevelopment that began with Prado continues with big project on Sandy Springs/Atlanta line

A mixed-use project of the type that abounded in metro Atlanta until the recent recession is shaping up on Roswell Road, right on the border of Atlanta and Sandy Springs.

JBL Builders has scraped two apartment complexes off the site and earthmovers on Tuesday were preparing the site for new apartments, retail and office space. Gov. Nathan Deal announced last week the state would provide Sandy Springs with a grant of $750,000 to help pay for the $3 million-plus realignment of Windsor Parkway at its intersection with Roswell Road.

The Chastain project spans about 22 acres and is located about 2 miles south of the storied Prado shopping center, which was redeveloped in 2008. The community has responded to both the projects in much the same way – generally glad to see the old buildings removed, and apprehensive about future traffic.
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MARTA gingerly tests alcohol ads to raise money for transit operations

Ads for alcohol could become commonplace on MARTA buses, trains, stations and shelters as early as January.

MARTA is in the process of hiring an advertising firm and has asked proponents to estimate the amount of money MARTA could make from alcohol ads. The bids are due June 10.

The decision to allow alcohol ads is one of MARTA’s latest efforts to raise money to operate the system. The decision also leads MARTA into territory that it traditionally has avoided, and entered just this year by allowing ad vendor CBS Outdoor to sell alcohol ads on MARTA property.
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German aviation engineers visit Tech, Gulfstream, Airbus on trade mission

A group of German aerospace engineers are to tour the booming aviation industry in Georgia and Alabama after attending a science seminar Monday at Georgia Tech.

The scientists are traveling in a group of about 50 individuals, all of whom are part of a broader trade mission that seeks to foster relations among German engineers and manufacturers and their U.S. counterparts. The trip’s being coordinated by the German American Chamber of Commerce in the Southern U.S.

These conversations underscore the tremendous advancement in the aerospace industry since aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh flew his first solo flight in Georgia, in 1923 from Souther Field, in Americus. Four years later, Lindbergh entered the annals of history with his transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.
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GSU’s Rajeev Dhawan: Some economic indicators in current climate are “a mystery”

Some economic indicators just don’t make sense and that adds to the uncertainty of forecasting this phase of the economy, a leading Atlanta economist said Thursday.

Rajeev Dhawan, of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University, wondered, for example, how the construction industry could have added jobs in the first three months of the year, when the region was paralyzed by two ice storms.

“Construction was so strong in February; that is a mystery to me,” Dhawan said, before concluding that he is “gingerly betting on growth” in the regional and state economy.
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Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Curb Market has found its groove, awaits Streetcar

The Sweet Auburn Curb Market is finally in a comfortable place, as its retail spaces are full and the Atlanta Streetcar promises to bring more customers to its doors near Grady Memorial Hospital.

“People won’t hesitate to jump on the streetcar from the 191 [office tower near Woodruff Park] and ride to the market,” Pamela Joiner, the market’s director, on Tuesday told a committee of the Atlanta City Council.

Shop clerk Karen Bullock is ready to serve customers, old and new, at the market’s Sweet Auburn Bakery. Tuesday afternoon, Bullock was peeling a fresh batch of saucer-sized chocolate chip pecan cookies off parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Priced at $1.25 each, the cookies caught attention. Continue reading

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Atlanta’s pension reform, credit rating at issue as city eyes $250 million in upgrades of roads, bridges, sidewalks

If Atlanta receives a favorable interest rate on $250 million it may borrow in 2016 to repair roads, bridges and sidewalks, the rate will be due in part to pension reform completed in 2011.

Standard & Poor’s specifically cited Atlanta’s pension reform as one of three reasons it raised Atlanta’s fiscal outlook to stable from negative in 2012, the most recent rating of the city’s general obligation debt. The credit-rating agency also affirmed its investment-grade rating of the city’s debt.
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Atlanta Jazz Festival benefited from car rentals at Atlanta’s airport

As crowds on Sunday depart the Atlanta Jazz Festival, they have some unlikely sponsors to thank for the free entertainment – travelers who have rented cars at Atlanta’s airport.

Atlanta provided up to $100,000 to the festival from the city’s motor vehicle excise tax. Citing a decline steep decline in sponsorship due to the economy, the Atlanta City Council voted unanimously to approve the funding at its April 21 meeting.

The festival was established in 1978 by then Mayor Maynard Jackson. Today the event is produced by the Atlanta mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.
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Congress provides funds to deepen ports of Savannah, Jacksonville, Fla., Boston to handle bigger ships

Now that Congress has approved federal funding for the deepening of the Savannah Harbor, construction is expected to begin this autumn.

The Georgia Ports Authority said Thursday the first construction projects are to include: dredging the Savannah channel entrance seven miles farther into the Atlantic Ocean; recovering the CSS Georgia ironclad warship; and mitigation features including a freshwater storage facility for Savannah.

Incidentally, Congress did not give Savannah an exclusive on a harbor-deepening project. Similar projects were approved for Boston and Jacksonville, Fla., enabling all of three ports to handle the bigger ships expected to visit the East Coast once the Panama Canal is expanded next year, if the current construction schedule is maintained.
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New partnership intends to help develop affordable homes in region

More money is soon to be available for developers who need loans for projects in metro Atlanta neighborhoods still reeling from the housing crisis and, in some cases, woes that preceded the crisis.

The additional capital is to flow from a new partnership between Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Inc. and The Reinvestment Fund.

“Some metro Atlanta submarkets are slowly rebounding from the great recession, while others are experiencing considerable growth,” ANDP President/CEO John O’Callaghan said.
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After Civil War, Atlanta’s leaders were ready to return to business, says upcoming speaker at History Center

The way Decatur historian Wendy Venet tells the story, Atlanta residents were weary of the Civil War by the time Union General William T. Sherman advanced on the city and “schmoozed” the Union general who presided over the city during Reconstruction.

“After 1863, loyalty becomes a highly contested issue in Atlanta,” Venet said. “It took a variety of forms including acts of lawlessness, particularly the draft, people hiding horses or mules to keep them from being impressed. So by the time Sherman seized the city in 1864, Atlanta was becoming unglued.”
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Atlanta’s Eastside TAD has yet to fulfill vision or plan; Mayor Reed wants it closed, taxes used elsewhere

An urban renewal program that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed proposes to close has achieved less than half the goals that were outlined in 2005, and it has a long way to go toward fulfilling its mission as stated when it was created in 2003, city records show.

When the Eastside TAD was created, the vision was for it to spark $1.51 billion in private and public/private investments. The result has been an additional $300 million in increased property value through 2010, the latest reporting year readily available in city records.

Reed proposes to close the Eastside Tax Allocation District in order to free about $5 million a year for use in the citywide budget. Currently, this amount of property taxes can be spent only to promote development within the borders of the Eastside TAD.
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Air quality improving in metro Atlanta, according to preliminary GRTA report

The air quality in metro Atlanta is showing significant improvements in terms of a reduction in the amount of fine particulates, according to a preliminary report by GRTA.

The number of “good” air quality days reached a preliminary figure of about 50 percent in 2013, the best year on a chart that shows years going back to 2004. The air quality index hovered in the mid 60 percentile range from 2012 back to 2009.

If the preliminary findings stand, the region will meet the stricter air quality standards the federal EPA imposed in December 2012. Metro Atlanta’s improvements coincide with the great recession and a number of rules implemented by Georgia.
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Rural Georgians may face rising hardships to reach medical care

Georgia is going to be hard pressed to transport the poor, elderly and disabled from home to health care in rural parts of the state, according to an analysis of a new report by the Governor’s Development Council.

The consequence is that rural Georgia may become an increasingly difficult place to live for current residents who hope to age in place, and for those who move from a city to a small town or the countryside. The government likely will have to determine whether to pay for a steep rise in the cost of helping rural Georgians travel to see a doctor or get treatment such as dialysis.

Two years ago, consolidation of service providers seemed to be the solution for containing costs. The idea was that costs could be lowered through better management of services provided by three state entities – the departments of transportation, human services and community health.
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Atlanta’s home building, some retail sectors remain erratic, budget shows

The home construction industry in the city of Atlanta remains erratic, and other market sectors are still shaking themselves out after the recession, according to a review of figures provided in Mayor Kasim Reed’s budget proposal.

The value of homes built in the city of Atlanta fell by 48 percent in 2013 compared to 2012. However, once all construction categories are included, the budget shows revenues from building permits are increasing steadily in the city.

The value of lumber sold in the city  plummeted during the recession. And lumber isn’t the only market sector that sank – and hasn’t recovered – in Atlanta during the economic reorganization that started before and continued after the recession.
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PSC’s Tim Echols turns spotlight on ending child trafficking, exploitation

PSC Commissioner Tim Echols, who normally helps set utility rates, recently convened a panel of state and regional leaders to discuss the trafficking of children and look ahead to solutions.

“There is no nexus between the PSC and the sexual exploitation of children, but as a constitutional officer in the state of Georgia I believe it is my duty to uphold the constitution that says, ‘Wisdom, Justice, Moderation,” Echols said after the Lunch and Learn event he hosted May 9 at the Troutman Sanders law office in Atlanta.

During the two-hour discussion, GBI Director Vernon Keenan said metro Atlanta has a high national ranking for prostitution because the state takes the crime seriously. Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Toccoa) said the Legislature will resume its law-making on the topic next year, after it “stepped back” in this election year.
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Stadium update: Opponents of city bonds say they are weighing options to appeal first ruling in city’s favor

Atlanta has won the first round of the legal fight over its authority to issue more than $278 million in bonds for the future Falcons stadium.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville ruled last week in the city’s favor. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office issued a statement saying the mayor was “pleased” with the outcome.

However, the city cannot issue any bonds during the 30-day period during which the opponents can appeal the court ruling. Opponents said Sunday they are weighing their options and previously have said they would appeal an unfavorable ruling. They already have delayed a sale that was on a fast track in February.
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Georgia’s jobs deficit tops 372,000 as companies hire slowly, GBPI reports

Georgia’s deficit of jobs was 372,300 in March 2014 and Georgia companies employ fewer workers than before the recession began as they continue to hire slowly, according to a report released Thursday by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

To fill the gap by March 2017, the GBPI report states: “Georgia’s economy would need to add an average of about 13,000 jobs per month. Georgia averaged only 5,670 jobs per month over the past year.”

The GBPI findings on employment trends are in line with those contained in the April 16 Beige Book, released by the Atlanta district of the Fed. The Fed report states: “Firms continued to show a preference for implementing technology to increase output as opposed to adding staff.”
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Atlanta Mayor Reed: Boko Haram “could not be more wrong” in kidnapping girls for slave trade

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has added his voice to the international chorus criticizing an Islamist terrorist group for kidnapping school girls in Nigeria and praying for the girls and their families.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the more than 200 Nigerian girls kidnapped three weeks ago from the Government Girls Secondary School,” Reed said in a statement released late Wednesday.

Reed is slated to visit Nigeria in October as part of a trade mission that includes South Africa. Reed also is scheduled to join Gov. Nathan Deal in speaking in August at the Nigerian American Investment Summit, in Atlanta.
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GRTA marks 10th anniversary with “thank you” events at park-and-ride locations through June 29

GRTA is marking a few milestones this summer with customer appreciation events at each of its park-and-ride locations. The first events were held Tuesday in Gwinnett County.

The Xpress bus service has now been operating for 10 years. The service has provided more than 17 million passenger trips during that period and now provides about 2 million trips a year, according to GRTA.

The commemorations occur even as mobility remains a major public issue in metro Atlanta. The latest example unfolded Tuesday in Clayton County, when MARTA GM Keith Parker presented an overview of how MARTA could serve the county if Clayton resumes bus service.
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Mayor Reed’s proposed budget aims for voter support of planned $250 million bond referendum

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s goal of winning voter support for a planned $250 million bond referendum to fix roads, bridges and sidewalks is evident throughout the budget he has proposed to the Atlanta City Council.

The proposed budget contains any number of programs and efforts that appear intended to create an environment where the message in a bond referendum campaign could be: “You can trust Atlanta to manage your tax dollars wisely, and to deliver projects and services as promised.”

A snapshot of the debt outlook for the proposed bond was included in a recent budget presentation. The snapshot lists the proposed issuance date in January 2015. Atlanta CFO James Beard said the published date should be one year later, 2016.
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Noonday Creek Trail nearing completion in northern Cobb County

The final segment of the Noonday Creek Trail project in Cobb County is on schedule to open as early as June, when the trail will link Kennesaw Mountain and the Town Center commercial area.

The Noonday Creek Trail is a seven-mile paved pathway that has been under construction for about five years. Once it’s finished, the trail will connect a major retail and collegiate destination with one of the country’s major battlefield parks.

The area also has historic significance related to the Atlanta Campaign of the Civil War, which recognizes its 150th anniversary this summer. Noonday Creek and Bells Ferry were the site of a cavalry battle in June 1864 that left perhaps 100 dead and was deemed not decisive by one account.
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Gee-whiz technology to help prevent future wintry weather traffic jams

The next time wintry weather threatens Georgia’s roads, the state intends to have better equipment and strategies to handle the inevitable traffic problems.

Admittedly, this report on the state’s weather preparedness seems a little off tempo, given the spring storms this week and sunny forecast for the weekend. But the report is making the rounds, most recently in a presentation to the board of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Better knowledge and communication comprise the backbone of the response described by Meg Pirkle, director of operations for the Georgia Department of Transportation. Weather stations that monitor the surfaces of roads, and cameras, account for $11.5 million of the $14 million the state Legislature provided this year.
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Atlanta City Council wants some TADs closed to free millions of tax dollars for use elsewhere in city

The Atlanta City Council on Thursday made its strongest statement yet that the time has come to declare some urban renewal districts complete so that property taxes collected from them can pay for city services elsewhere in Atlanta.

The position sets up a potential political confrontation between the council and Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm that collects management fees by administering Atlanta’s 10 TADs. Property taxes collected in a TAD, or tax allocation district, can be spent only to provide new public amenities in that TAD.

“This is the juice for Invest Atlanta,” said Councilmember Yolanda Adrean. “They take all their administrative charges and they smear them like peanut butter across these 10 TADs. Well, I mean, they [TADs] were designed to be retired. Mission accomplished. Yeah! Close it.”
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Poll: Georgians want Congress to end impasse, fund roads, rails, transit

Georgians and residents of six other states want Congress to end its stalemate at least long enough to approve transportation funding before the existing pot of money runs out this summer, according to results of a poll released Wednesday.

The results could give federal lawmakers the political cover needed to provide federal funding for roads, transit and rail – a sector that historically enjoyed bipartisan support before gridlock reached its current state.

“People just want Congress to take action, and transportation is a no-brainer,” said Margie Omero, managing director of Purple Insights, the polling firm. “It’s not a partisan divide, at least among Georgians.”
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Small businesses struggle in metro Atlanta, but GSU professor sees hope

The average “mom and pop” shop in metro Atlanta is bringing in a lot less money than before the recession, according to a SaportaReport.com analysis of statistics newly released by the Census Bureau.

In 2007, the average receipts for a “mom and pop” in metro Atlanta were $44,708. In 2012, the average receipts were $38,873, the analysis showed.

The numbers come as no surprise to Bob Gemmell, a serial tech entrepreneur from Georgia Tech who now directs the Herman J. Russell Sr. Center for Entrepreneurship at Georgia State University: “A good bit of this is because of the recession.”
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New facilities, programs, focus on growing number of metro Atlantans who say: “I remember when”

Efforts to prepare for the region’s graying population are beginning to gain traction.

In Cobb County on Monday, a sold-out crowd is booked for the daylong “Aging by Design” summit. The event culminates the county’s two-month program on aging.

In Gwinnet County, a new commercial kitchen opened officially April 22 at the Gwinnett Senior Services Center, in Lawrenceville. The facility triples the number of meals that can be prepared and delivered to seniors, to 2,000 meals a day.
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Atlanta’s human trafficking problem the focus of Atlanta sorority chapters

Two local chapters of a sorority started at Howard University have convened a Human Trafficking Forum Saturday to discuss ways to fight the illegal sex trade in Atlanta.

The trade is immense. A landmark government-funded study released in March showed Atlanta has the nation’s largest sex economy – $290 million in 2007 and growing, unlike the decline reported in other U.S. cities that were part of a study.

Children continue to be trafficked, the report determined, despite the surge by law enforcement to crack down on pimps who prey on youngsters. According to the report:
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ARC to Ga. congressional delegation: Help end impasse over transportation funding, GDOT official concurs

The Atlanta Regional Commission’s board of directors voted Wednesday to ask the state’s congressional delegation to resolve the impasse over the nation’s transportation funding program and keep transportation money flowing to Georgia.

The ARC board acted in advance of the July 1 deadline imposed by the state for approval of new transportation projects. The Georgia Department of Transportation swiftly endorsed the resolution approved by ARC’s board.

“We support the action of the ARC,” said Natalie Dale, GDOT’s liaison for government relations. “We’ve had similar conversations with our congressional delegation.”
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Atlanta City Council had delayed action on solar farm; vote expected on May 5

The Atlanta City Council has not approved a solar farm project on city property, as reported here late Tuesday.

The resolution was included in a package of legislation the council was slated to adopt without discussion and by consent. This legislative package, called the “consent agenda,” was approved. However, the council had removed the solar farm resolution shortly before the vote.

Council Finance Committee Chairman Alex Wan said Wednesday he asked the council to delay action on the solar farm resolution, at the request of Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.
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Atlanta to produce solar energy at five solar farms, including two at airport, sell to Georgia Power

Atlanta intends to generate solar power and sell it to Georgia Power through a planned public-private partnership with a Chicago-based energy firm.

The Atlanta City Council on Monday authorized Mayor Kasim Reed to enter negotiations with New Generation Power, Inc. Terms call for a 20-year ground lease with the solar company, and for the firm to deliver, install and maintain photovoltaic panels and related equipment.

The city intends to lease land for solar farms at three landfills, which are closed, and at two sites at Atlanta’s airport, according to provisions of the legislation. The company is to pay all costs associated with the project, and its website says it has funds available through its shareholders, partners, and lending institutions.
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Snitches, riches and crime: No easy answers to questions in wired world

JaTawn Robinson is one of many parents fighting the cross-currents of modern culture as she rears her three young sons. Signs of the currents abound in metro Atlanta.

In her southwest Atlanta neighborhood, Robinson said, children learn from each other that it’s wrong to “snitch” on criminals.

This weekend in Buckhead, Macy’s Lenox Square is hosting the rapper Lil Wayne to promote a Trukfit clothing line. Wayne’s website depicts him smoking what the caption calls a “huge joint.” Wayne’s portrayal of gang culture – particularly the Bloods – prompted MTV and BET to ban from their airwaves the video he and the artist Game released in 2011.
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Voter registration deadline is April 21

Monday, April 21, is the deadline to register to vote in the May 20 primary elections.

The deadline for voter registration is much earlier than usual because the date of the primary election has been moved up from mid summer to May 20. The date of any needed runoff elections is July 22.

In aligning the date of state and local elections with a court-ordered date for federal elections, the legislature also changed deadlines for campaign financial disclosure reports, which are important to those who follow campaigns.
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Atlanta arrests “Blood” gang members in murder case as public discussion returns to crime

Crime is again coming to the forefront of conversation in Atlanta and Fulton County.

Four members of the 9 Trey Gangster organization have been arrested by Atlanta police in connection with at least one homicide in southwest Atlanta, police said Wednesday. The gang is affiliated with the United Blood Nation, as in the “Crips and Bloods” of the 1980s, according to the FBI.

Fulton County commission Chairman John Eaves is slated to speak Thursday evening at a program titled, “Neighborhood Gangs and Protecting Our Youth.” This follows the “Crime and Safety Summit” Eaves convened in March.
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Georgia River Network honors efforts to conserve state’s waterways

The Georgia River Network has issued three awards to recognize efforts to conserve Georgia’s waterways.

The non-profit organization may best be known for its annual Paddle Georgia event, which this year is covering 115 miles from Buford Dam to Franklin. The awards program, now in its 10th year, acknowledges the work it takes to protect the state’s waters and riverbanks.

This year’s awards were won by the Yellow River Water Trail group, in Porterdale; Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markesteyn, in Savannah; and Satilla Riverkeeper Clay Montague, in Waverly. They were presented April 5 at an event at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, in Roswell.
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Fulton County ramps up West Nile virus program; two hotspots are located near future Falcons stadium

Fulton County is seeking to hire a company to combat the West Nile virus and will continue to target two hotspots, Vine City and English Avenue, both of which are near the future Falcons stadium.

Fulton County became aggressive in fighting mosquitoes, which carry the disease, following the death of an elderly Vine City resident in 2001, said Kevin Jones, Fulton County’s deputy director of environmental health services.

“We decided to do everything in our power to make sure that never happens again,” Jones said.
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Leaders: Transportation plans show united leadership, absence of politics

The spirit of regional leadership that emerged during the planning for the 2012 transportation sales tax referendum remains intact and is evident in the region’s new short- and long-term transportation plans, according to transportation officials.

“This is the first post-referendum Transportation Improvement Program [and] we did this very well,” said Jannine Miller, GRTA’s former executive director and newest board member.

“It was very political a long time ago,” said GRTA board member J.T. Williams. “The county chair got to say, ‘These are my two projects,’ and it didn’t matter what the projects were. That is a thing of the past. We have to get the best bang for the buck.” Continue reading

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Falcons stadium to break ground in May as judge weighs legality of Atlanta’s $200 million funding

The groundbreaking for the future Falcons stadium has been postponed more than a month as the legal battle continues over the $200 million in construction financing to be provided by Atlanta.

The original schedule envisioned the ceremony would place the last week of March. Now the target is an unspecified date in May, according to a report on Bloomberg.com. It’s unclear if the delay is related to the court case.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville said he expects to rule on the case no earlier than April 21.
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GRTA complies with Civil Rights Act, except for amenities in four parking lots, internal report shows

GRTA complies with the federal Civil Rights Act in the operation of Xpress bus service, but four parking lots lack required amenities, according to results of a self-review the GRTA board discussed Wednesday.

The issue is a lack of amenities such as ADA parking in a leased lot, pavilions, security cameras, and call boxes, the review determined. The board voted to address the shortcomings.

Other than the parking lot issues, the review determined that GRTA complies with the provisions of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as administered by the Federal Transit Administration.
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Cousins Properties bullish on job growth in Atlanta area as it expands in Texas; Billy Payne to leave board

Metro Atlanta has regained all the office jobs it lost during the great recession and job growth is expected to exceed the national average, Cousins Properties, Inc. states in its annual financial report to the federal SEC.

In other Cousins news, Billy Payne – credited with helping to bring the 1996 Olympic Games to Atlanta – is to leave the Cousins board of directors after its annual board meeting May 6. Payne, 66, was elected to the Cousins board in 2006 and remains chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club. Continue reading

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DeKalb Sheriff Brown’s campaign for Congress assailed by rights activist Joe Beasley over campaign finances

DeKalb County Sheriff Tom Brown’s campaign for the congressional seat held by Rep. Hank Johnson is under attack by veteran human rights activist Joe Beasley.

Beasley said he filed a complaint against Brown’s campaign finance practices with the Federal Election Commission. Beasley said he holds a dim view of Brown because of the sheriff’s demeanor following the fatal shootings in 2006 at the Fulton County Courthouse, and Brown’s handling of evictions during the foreclosure crisis of the Great Recession.
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Atlanta deepens connections with Brazil for trade, academic exchange

Signs of strengthening relations between Brazil and Atlanta continue to appear.

On Saturday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is to lead a seven-day trade mission to Brazil. Last week, Georgia State University and an educational initiative started by Fulton County Chairman John Eaves hosted more than 125 college students from Brazil who are studying STEM fields at colleges in Georgia.

Georgia and Brazil have maintained direct relations for more than 20 years. The state opened a trade office in Brazil in 1994 and the Brazilian Chamber of Commerce opened in Atlanta in 1996. Brazil opened a new consulate in Atlanta in 2008.
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New report: Atlanta’s sprawl among nation’s worst; ARC’s Doug Hooker says ranking ‘a look back in time’

ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker is pushing back against a new national ranking by Smart Growth America that shows metro Atlanta is one of the worst regions in the country when it comes to sprawl.

Hooker cites a 2013 report by Chris Leinberger, a land use strategist and developer, that announced metro Atlanta is, “experiencing the end of sprawl.” Leinberger’s study observed that walkable urban development now accounts for most of the development in metro Atlanta.
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Atlanta to sell 1 acre by BeltLine; developer to be chosen April 17

Atlanta on Monday announced its plan to sell just over an acre of land in the BeltLine corridor. The property is across North Avenue from Ponce City Market and abuts the Eastside Trail next to the Historic Fourth Ward Park.

The city intends to select a developer on April 17. The vacant property was formally put on the auction block Monday by Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm.
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New airport business alliance similar to successful economic development program in Gwinnett County

The newly formed Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance bears a striking resemblance to Partnership Gwinnett, a public-private initiative that has created a strong record of economic development in Gwinnett County.

Each entity was formed to attract jobs and investments to their respective areas. One distinguishing point is that the aerotropolis alliance was convened by the Atlanta Regional Commission, whereas Partnership Gwinnett is based at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.
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Emory University’s contest lifts region’s role in global health arena

Teams from Dallas and Baltimore took home top honors, but in a sense Emory University and metro Atlanta were the real winners in this weekend’s International Emory Global Health Case Competition.

The event drew to Emory’s campus more than 140 top students and scholars from the U.S. and countries including Australia, Canada and Sweden. For these students, Emory was the venue to propose and debate 21st century strategies for the World Health Organization.
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MLK Historic District to be bolstered as AHA plans tear-down of building

The proposal to demolish a building owned by the Atlanta Housing Authority in the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District is advancing even as the city expects to enact in May a set of new zoning regulations to create an entire landmark district in the area.

The AHA-owned building is located along Auburn Avenue in the heart of the proposed commercial and institutional section of the landmark district. Fulton County property tax records list the owner as Westside Revitalization Acquisitions, LLC. AHA’s report to HUD lists the building as one of its potential tear-downs.

This particular structure, built in 1981, may not be worth saving – an economic review panel will help determine the building’s fate. But the proposed demolition does raise the question of protecting and promoting the King historic district as it is poised for revitalization spurred by the Atlanta Streetcar.
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MARTA’s mystery rider program, up for renewal, grew from federal ADA lawsuit filed by disabled riders

When MARTA on Wednesday begins its latest effort to improve customer service, it will be renewing a program that grew out of a federal court order issued in 2002 to protect disabled riders.

MARTA is soliciting proposals for a mystery rider program. A central issue is MARTA’s compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The program goes by the sort of fun-sounding name of, “MARTA’s Mystery Customer Program.” The name harkens to the mystery customers who check on retail clerks to advise management on how well the clerks treat customers.
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Traffic relief, transit upgrades funded in ARC’s five-year spending plan

A new plan due for initial adoption Wednesday by the ARC board shows the extent to which $7-plus billion can go toward improving metro Atlanta’s transportation network.

Planners talk up the will-do projects contained in this five-year spending proposal, rather than lofty visions in the Atlanta Regional Commission’s long-range transportation plan. The ARC’s 2040 plan update is up for adoption, as well.

This strategy of focusing on the five-year plan addresses some realpolitiks: Regional traffic is building after the recession, while transportation funding remains scarce; A vote to adopt a regional transportation plan will show ARC’s board is not immobilized by disagreement over who should be elected as a citizen board member.
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Consolidation in shipping industry latest wrinkle for Savannah port

The vagaries of the global shipping trade are again poised to affect Atlanta’s second major trade port, the seaport in Savannah.

Last month, the concern was construction delays at the Panama Canal. This month, it’s the question of how the Savannah port will factor into a proposed alliance of shipping companies that would control up to 40 percent of the world’s major oceanic transport.

All these events are routine business ventures compared to the state’s decision on how to proceed with the deepening of the Savannah harbor – despite the decision by the Obama White House not to provide federal funding for the project.
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Atlanta a finalist for $30 million urban renewal grant; Mayor Reed responds to SaportaReport.com story on AHA

Atlanta is one of six cities HUD has chosen as finalists for a federal Choice Neighborhood grant that would provide Atlanta with up to $30 million to improve three impoverished neighborhoods.

Atlanta would target the money on three neighborhoods west of the future Falcons stadium. The potential federal grant is separate from the $30 million already promised to the area by Atlanta and the Blank Family Foundation.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office announced the city’s status as a finalist for the grant on March 18, the same day it issued a statement from the mayor that responded to a March 13 story in SaportaReport.com.
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As Yellen talks about jobs & economy, two with Ga. ties debate role of Fed

A definite Georgia flavor surrounded Janet Yellen’s first press conference in Washington Wednesday as chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.

As Yellen was preparing to talk with reporters, a retired vice president of the Atlanta Fed and a UGA economics professor were speaking at a separate panel discussion, hosted by the Heritage Foundation, on what the Fed has done in its 100-year history for U.S. monetary policy.

Despite the different venues, the conversations shared an interest in the Fed’s role in unemployed and underemployed Americans.
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Sustainability’s next generation flexes young wings of new ideas in Atlanta

A nascent movement in the sustainability arena flexed its young wings in Atlanta last week.

The movement involves the merging of issues including renewable energy, green buildings, and consumer products free of toxic chemicals. Apple CEO Tim Cook epitomizes the new concept for one advocate who spoke at a panel discussion sponsored by Southeast Green.

Cook drew headlines for this Feb. 28 remark to shareholders who criticized Apple’s green investment strategy: “If you want me to do things only for ROI [return on investment] reasons, you should get out of this stock.”
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Atlanta to condemn land for BeltLine rather than risk losing $18 million in federal funds for southwest trail

Atlanta plans to condemn property to build an Atlanta BeltLine trail so the project doesn’t lose federal funding.

The Southwest Corridor Trail is to be built with an $18 million TIGER V grant. Atlanta has until June 30 to acquire rights of way and complete other pre-construction activities, according to terms of the grant.

The Atlanta City Council, at its Monday meeting, is slated to authorize Mayor Kasim Reed to acquire land needed for the southwest trail. The legislation provides for purchase or condemnation. The paper, 14-O-1145, does not specify the amount of land involved.
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New intrigue in proposed remake of Fulton County tax commissioner

The perennial proposal to do something, anything, about the Fulton County tax commissioner is bottled up in the Georgia legislature.

The state Senate on Thursday tabled a proposal, filed by ranking House members, that contains two big provisions. At this stage in the legislative session, there’s no telling if the proposal has a chance of being passed this year.
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AHA after Renee Glover: No new initiatives for residents; but provide land for Falcons parking lot

The Atlanta Housing Authority proposes no new initiatives in the first forward-looking report it has prepared for HUD since former CEO Renee Glover left last year following a public two-year dispute with Mayor Kasim Reed.

The report does say AHA intends to provide the Falcons with land near the new stadium for a surface parking lot. This site is part of the now-demolished housing project, Herndon Homes. Continue reading

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Getting around without a car: Transportation funding proposals promote transit, walking, biking

Bicycling, walking and transit are getting more attention as metro Atlanta planners prepare to adopt the proposed update of the region’s short- and long-term transportation plans. The plans are to be approved within 30 days.

“We will see this discussion grow more robust: How can we ensure a transit network and pedestrian network that improves moving people to regional job centers,” the ARC’s David Haynes said at Wednesday’s GRTA board meeting.
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Pet euthanasia rates lower after new manager in Fulton, DeKalb steps up adoptions, counseling for owners

Fewer dogs and cats are being euthanized in Fulton and DeKalb counties now that a non-profit organization hired last year is promoting adoption of animals and counseling for owners who had planned to abandon their pets.

The euthanasia rates in February were about 14 percent in DeKalb and less than 25 percent in Fulton, according to Rebecca Guinn, executive director of LifeLine Animal Project. Historic highs have been near 85 percent at each facility. Continue reading

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PEDS calls for safer pedestrian access to transit, provides toolkit for achievable safety upgrades

A new report by PEDS calls on transportation planners to make pedestrian safety as important a goal as congestion relief, particularly near transit stops. The report also includes a toolkit for improving pedestrian safety near transit stops.

“We want safety to be a top priority, or as important as congestion relief,” Sally Flocks, PEDS president and CEO, said Sunday.

Flocks is slated to present the report Thursday to the ARC’s Transportation and Air Quality Committee. PEDS will ask ARC to conduct a pedestrian safety study. The Atlanta Regional Commission already is sensitive to the issue of pedestrian safety and now provides funding for last-mile connectivity efforts, Flocks said.
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A.D. King delegation to meet Queen of England at Nigeria’s celebration

The Queen of England is slated to meet Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister-in-law during Nigeria’s centennial celebration next week in London.

Naomi Barber King is the widow of A.D. King, brother of the slain civil rights leader. She founded the A.D. King Foundation, which promotes a platform of non-violent social change that’s distinct from measures conducted in the name of the more famous civil rights leader.
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Free app provides riders with more information on transit arrival times

A free app from researchers at Georgia Tech is the latest step toward providing transit passengers with the integrated information they need to know about the region’s public transit systems.

The app now provides arrival time for MARTA trains. It previously had provided arrival times for MARTA buses and Georgia Tech’s shuttles. Over time, developers plan to add arrival data for other transit systems in the Atlanta area.
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Obama budget stiffs Savannah harbor, funds programs used for Atlanta Streetcar, BeltLine

Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday was quick to jump on President Obama’s budget proposal for not including money to start the Savannah harbor deepening project.

But the Obama proposal does contain money for other transportation projects that may be of help in Georgia, particularly in Atlanta. Deal said the state will begin deepening the harbor with funds it already has set aside for the job.
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Construction delays at Panama Canal could affect Savannah harbor project

The $266 million that Georgia is setting aside for the planned deepening of the Savannah harbor is being protected by a proposed financial bailout of the Panama Canal expansion project.

The Savannah project is based on the premise that Savannah needs a deeper harbor to handle the bigger ships expected to transit the bigger Panama Canal. However, work on the canal resumed just last week – and only on a limited basis – after a two-week stoppage because of disagreement over $1.6 billion in cost overruns.

The entire budget for the canal’s expansion is $5.25 billion. The total cost now is forecast at nearly $7 billion, which is an increase of more than 30 percent above original projections.
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Falcons stadium: Land acquisition, connectivity report on neighborhoods await action by Atlanta City Council

The Atlanta City Council is slated to cast a series of votes Monday that may resolve a bit of the uncertainty surrounding the planned Falcons stadium.

But no matter how the council votes, significant issues remain unresolved. Construction funding for the $1.1 billion stadium remains subject to a legal challenge that could derail the project. In addition, the council just this weekend received a highly anticipated report from Mike Dobbins that address issues of connectivity and community regarding the stadium site.
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GSU report blunt on economy: “Odds are against 2014 being breakout year”

Everyone is looking for a breakout year for the economy. So much so that Georgia State University went ahead and said it probably won’t be so.

“Forecaster says odds are against 2014 being a breakout year for the economy,” is the headline that GSU put on its statement about the latest economic forecast by Rajeev Dhawan, of the school’s Economic Forecasting Center.

On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department revised downward its estimate of quarterly growth at the end of 2013. The growth rate was dropped by 25 percent from initial estimates, from 3.2 percent growth to 2.4 percent.
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As sustainability becomes a jobs issue, Ga., NY follow different paths

As Georgia vies for top talent and industry, a new program in New York that finances clean energy industries bears watching.

The New York Green Bank intends to help finance industries that hasten the transition to clean energy. The program is generally supported by the Sierra Club and headed by a banking veteran from Citigroup.

In comparison, Georgia environmentalists oppose a proposed water policy endorsed Wednesday by Gov. Nathan Deal: A plan to address low river flow in southwest Georgia by storing water underground and releasing as needed. The company that once pushed the plan withdrew following conflict-of-interest criticism from environmentalists.
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GRTA’s Xpress bus funding quietly becomes part of state’s base budget

Georgia has quietly gotten into the business of subsidizing regional bus service in metro Atlanta.

Gov. Nathan Deal and state lawmakers have made barely a peep this year about providing about the $8.2 million that Deal recommended to pay for bus service provided by GRTA, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. This sum doesn’t quite cover a year’s worth of operations, and the legislature likely will fill the gap next year.

This transit funding is remarkable, if only for its history.
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Olympia building at Five Points to be restored to historic grandeur

The historic Olympia building at Five Points is to be restored to its original grandeur, right down to the neon lighting from its days as the showroom for Wormser Hats.

The entire plan for the exterior of the building is based on photographs of the building when it opened soon after the Great Depression, according to Michael Wirsching, with Atlanta-based ASD Inc.

The building is to have a single tenant. Further commercial details were not available from city records and a principal with the owner, Florida-based Encore Real Estate, could not be reached for comment.
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Atlanta’s tech sector to prospect for capital, attention, in Silicon Valley

There’s just something about a $19 billion price tag on a business acquisition that catches the eye.

This figure has to be in the back of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s mind as he prepares to lead a trade delegation to Silicon Valley. The group has meetings with 12 venture capital companies and social media platforms to invite them to invest in Atlanta tech companies.

The $19 billion is the sum Facebook has agreed to pay to purchase WhatsApp, a messaging giant. WhatsApp has more than 450 million monthly active users, and more than 70 percent of them are active each day, according to techcrunch.com. Continue reading

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Transportation update: GRTA’s acting director, MARTA reorg on hold, Atlanta’s transportation planning

Some degree of clarity is emerging in metro Atlanta’s cauldron of transportation planners, managers, and planning.

GRTA Executive Director Jannine Miller visited the Capitol Thursday to say her goodbyes to lawmakers and introduce them to Kirk Fjelstul, her deputy director who was named by GRTA’s board as acting director. Down Mitchell Street from the Capitol, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed remains without a transportation planning director as the city tries to figure out how to realign Martin Luther King Jr. Drive around the future Falcons stadium and implement its bike share program.
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Atlanta’s latest plan for MLK Drive: Shift vehicles onto a two-lane street

Atlanta now is proposing to reroute traffic west of the Falcons stadium from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to a two-lane residential street that has curbside parking.

The Parsons Brinckerfhoff engineering firm designed this solution to the closure of the MLK viaduct. The proposal would create a seamless MLK Drive corridor, Richard Mendoza, the city’s public works commissioner, said Wednesday during a work session convened by the Atlanta City Council’s Utilities Committee.
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Falcons can cancel stadium deal Sept. 30 if Atlanta doesn’t provide $200 million, Herndon Homes parking

Terms of the deal for the Falcons stadium underscore the risks inherent in a delay in Atlanta’s sale of the bonds to fund the stadium, even as the Atlanta City Council appears to be in no rush to abandon land the state seeks for the stadium.

The Falcons can terminate the deal if Atlanta hasn’t sold bonds and deposited into the appropriate account at least $200 million by Sept. 30. The Falcons can back out if the former Herndon Homes public housing site isn’t made available for surface parking. There seems to be no mention of what happens if Atlanta declines to abandon its property.
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Symbols old and new capture angst emerging around Falcons stadium

The Falcons stadium is the next “Peyton wall” of Atlanta, a lawyer said Monday, comparing the sports venue to an actual wall the city erected across Peyton Road in 1962 to separate black and white neighborhoods.

By another account, the stadium saga is Atlanta’s version of “Groundhog Day.” In the movie, actor Bill Murray relived the same depressing events day after day after day. Poor people are the protagonists in this comparison to real life. Continue reading

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Atlanta’s funding for Falcon stadium delayed at least seven weeks by judge

A seven-week delay in Atlanta’s schedule sell bonds to help pay for construction of the Falcons stadium was the immediate result of a court hearing Monday morning.

Bond validation petitions typically are open-and-shut matters. Lawyers for the government usually get a speedy ruling from a judge that allows the sale of bonds to proceed posthaste.

In the case of Atlanta’s bonds for the stadium, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Granville set the next date for a bond validation hearing for April 10. In the meantime, opponents of the bond issuance can begin gathering at least some of the evidence they intend to use to try to prevent the city from issuing $278.3 million in bonds to help finance the stadium. Continue reading

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MARTA expansion along I-20 in eastern DeKalb County a goal of proposed East Metro CID

Civic leaders in south DeKalb County are trying – again – to improve the area, and this time their goals include the extension of MARTA bus and rail service along the I-20 corridor east to Mall at Stonecrest.

One caveat that may distinguish this organizational effort from its two predecessor’s is this plain call to extend MARTA service. The I-20/east route is among those MARTA GM Keith Parker says are contenders – once construction money is available.

Advocates say the CID would enable commercial property owners to raise money that could help provide the local match needed to draw down state and federal dollars. The CID funds also could target public safety, appearance, and roadway/sidewalk improvements.
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Georgia’s solar industry adds jobs as PSC calls for more solar energy

Georgia has climbed to 16th place in the nation in 2013 for the number of workers in the solar industry, according to a new report by The Solar Foundation.

Georgia has added some 1,800 solar jobs since 2012, bringing the total number of jobs in Georgia’s solar industry to about 2,600, the report found.

“This report shows that the solar industry is putting people to work to meet a growing percentage of our energy needs with a pollution-free energy source that has no fuel costs,” Jennette Gayer, with Environment Georgia, said in a statement announcing the report.
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Lawsuit contends stadium bonds unconstitutional, violate Georgia’s environmental policies

A court challenge has been filed against Atlanta’s plan to sell $278.3 million in bonds to help fund construction of the Falcons’ $1.2 billion stadium.

The motion to intervene portrays a breakdown in legislative and administrative processes all the way from the state Capitol to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and to Atlanta City Hall.

The motion raises legal issues involving the constitutionality of the hotel motel tax; the demolition of two churches; failure to address state-mandated environmental concerns; and failure to ask the Atlanta Regional Commission to review the project as a development of regional impact.
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Mayor Reed’s legacy to be tested by challenge to city funding of stadium

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed may be bucking the adage that history judges leaders for their performance in battles not of their choosing.

One battle Reed did choose, and on which he will be judged, is to help the Falcons build a new stadium. The mayor has not been able to end the battle, though it was to have been over when the Atlanta City Council approved in December a community benefits deal that released $200 million in construction financing.

More than two months after that council vote, the stadium financing is still not a done deal: The city’s funding could be tied up in court for a year; a $200 million loan from the NFL is contingent on the city’s funding; and the state’s request to Atlanta to abandon land for the stadium is lingering in the Atlanta City Council.
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Atlanta willing to pay 8 percent interest on Falcons stadium bonds

Atlanta is willing to pay an interest rate of up to 8 percent for the $278.3 million in revenue bonds it intends sell to provide construction financing for the new Falcons stadium.

To put that rate in perspective, Atlanta’s airport is paying rates ranging from 2 percent to 6 percent on its $3.1 billion in outstanding bonds, according to the airport’s 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The airport bonds are paid with proceeds of airport revenues, passenger fees and federal grants.

These terms and others are cited in the bond validation petition that Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Granville is scheduled to hear Feb. 17. Opponents who think the stadium deal could do more than the current plan to transform nearby neighborhoods are expected to contest the bond validation.
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Atlanta BeltLine creates, fills job of economic development director

The Atlanta BeltLine has created the position of director of economic development and filled it with a former director of the Savannah Economic Development Authority. Terms were not disclosed.

Jerald Mitchell is to devise and implement a strategy for economic development around the BeltLine, according to a statement the BeltLine released Thursday.

Mitchell’s hiring was announced 11 weeks after Mayor Kasim Reed announced he intends to develop the BeltLine as a public private partership. Reed said he is looking for an investor to put in $3 billion to $4 billion, nearly double the 2005 estimate of the BeltLine’s development costs.
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Falcons stadium: MLK Drive bridge severed, court hearing set for Feb. 17 on $278 million in city funding

Progress on the new Falcons stadium has hit a new high gear.

A demolition crew worked Wednesday to rip out a portion of the viaduct of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. A Fulton County Superior Court judge on Tuesday set a hearing date of Feb. 17 to validate the $278.3 million the city has agreed to borrow in order provide for the stadium’s construction.

The fate of the stadium plan is far from certain: Area residents have indicated they intend to block the bond sale in court; the Atlanta City Council hasn’t agreed to abandon six parcels of land the Falcons say they need to build the stadium. Continue reading

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Easy money as landlord of cheap homes proving an elusive dream

The once-hot “REO to rental” business has cooled in metro Atlanta and beyond.

A year ago, average investors were kicking themselves for not getting in on the ground floor of an emerging industry: Buy cheap bank-owned or foreclosed houses and rent them for a tidy profit. News that Blackstone Group alone had bought 1,400 houses in the region in April 2013 showed the market had taken off.

Now, a report in Tuesday’s edition of Financial Times shows that Blackstone and others are having to take discount prices for their REO-backed securities. A congressional investigation into the industry is looming.
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Business plan for Savannah port could make Louisiana Purchase blush

In the push to deepen the Port of Savannah, one issue that’s not received much attention is how the facility will handle the hoped-for increase in cargo that’s driving the desire to serve bigger ships.

The Georgia Ports Authority does have a $1.4 billion plan to expand its cargo handling capacity. What’s still to be created is a better network to attract and manage goods heading to and from the port, said GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz.
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Rent a bike just like a Zipcar: Atlanta to close deal on bike-share program

The centerpiece of Atlanta’s plan to start its first bike-share program is slated to be approved Monday by the Atlanta City Council. Bikes are to be rolling within a year.

The plan is for a private vendor to provide at least 500 rental bikes for use during a five-year contract. The two start-up areas are in Buckhead and Midtown/Downtown Atlanta, according to the legislation. Rental prices have not been released.

Atlanta is requiring each bike to be equipped with an array of comfort and safety features: At least seven gears, fenders, chain guards, luggage basket or rack, and a self-generating headlight. Bikes reservations will be handled via the Internet.
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New life for talks about transportation funding, but no quick fixes in sight

The air in Atlanta and Washington suddenly seems filled with talk about creative methods of financing to pay for repairs to roads, bridges, sidewalks and other so-called transportation infrastructure.

At the state Capitol this week, a new consortium announced it was backing a revision of the TSPLOST approach to upgrading transportation. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in his inaugural address this month, cited his plans to ask voters in 2015 to approve borrowing up to $250 million for infrastructure improvements.

President Obama, during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, called on Congress to approve new funding for roads and ports by this summer. On Jan. 16, a bill to create an infrastructure bank was submitted in the Senate by a bipartisan group. A similar proposal was filed in November in the Senate.
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Good news for icy metro roads: Savannah port closed, reducing number of trucks in Atlanta area

The Savannah port was closed Wednesday, which provided one saving grace for metro Atlanta’s weather-clogged roads.

“Any truck traffic that would have been moving from the port to the city of Atlanta was eliminated or reduced significantly,” said ports authority spokesman Robert Morris.

Gov. Nathan Deal said Wednesday that jack-knifed tractor-trailer rigs on metro Atlanta roads had contributed to the region’s paralysis after wintry weather shut many roads Tuesday afternoon. A significant proportion of trucks in the region are headed to or from the Savannah port.
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Atlanta council slows plan to reroute MLK for reported VIP parking lot at south side of Falcons stadium

A committee of the Atlanta City Council tapped the brakes Tuesday on what had been a fast-moving proposal to allow Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to be rerouted in a way that’s said to provide for VIP parking at the new Falcons stadium.

Instead of fast-tracking the proposal, Utilities Committee Chairperson Natalyn Mosby Archibong won support for her suggestion that the committee convene a work session on topics involving the MLK Drive corridor. The impact of such a delay on the stadium project is unclear, but some reports suggest the stadium design is not so far along that it couldn’t be changed if MLK Drive is to be left intact.

Hans Utz, Mayor Kasim Reed’s deputy COO, told the committee that concerns about the proposal are premature until after Atlanta has agreed to abandon land to facilitate the stadium. Meanwhile, the city’s control over six parcels of land is said to be the last bit of leverage Atlanta has over the stadium project.
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VIP parking at Falcons stadium to require big changes in MLK Drive

A planned VIP parking lot at the future Falcons stadium will require a virtual dead end of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at the stadium, and will affect the road’s ability to become the grand boulevard envisioned by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

[Scroll down the story to see a gallery of photos of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive corridor.]

The first public discussion of this proposal is scheduled Tuesday morning during the Atlanta City Council’s Utilities Committee.

The Falcons contend fans will benefit from VIP parking and related traffic management plan that will enhance their game-day experience. Others disagree. Continue reading

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Brazil, a dynamic business partner, site of Reed’s next trade mission

Brazil is one of Georgia’s leading trade partners, and Mayor Kasim Reed intends to strengthen relations during a trade mission he’s to lead there in April. Reed is just wrapping up his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Metro Atlanta’s connection to Brazil is closer than might be expected, if the only consideration were the 4,600 flight miles or so that separate Atlanta from the capitol, Sao Paulo. An air router showed this distance is about 400 miles more than the mileage between Atlanta and London.

In terms of trade through Georgia’s seaports, Brazil is the state’s eighth largest export market and the 15th largest source of imports, according to the U.S. Census. A UGA study showed in 2012 that more than 156,000 jobs in metro Atlanta are tied to Georgia’s ports.
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DeKalb County’s interim CEO outlines plan to restore pride, performance

DeKalb County interim CEO Lee May delivered a State of the County Address Thursday in which he promised a bright future while acknowledging his temporary seat in the county’s top office.

May named problems and proposed solutions. He portrayed his office and the Board of Commissioners as working together, rather than feuding. He said DeKalb’s young people will benefit from a new Office of Youth Services and a functioning school superintendent and board of education.

May took the stage around 8 p.m. and introduced his wife and mother of his two, soon to be three, children, Robin May. Quickly, the faith leader reached into the Old Testament to open his address with the biblical figure Nehamiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem – a task May likened to the rebuilding of DeKalb after CEO Burrell Ellis was indicted last year on felony charges of public corruption.
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TSPLOST rejection hasn’t dampened demand for GDOT road repair funds

Metro Atlanta has not forfeited many state funds to maintain local roads, despite the higher local match that results from voter rejection of the transportation sales tax in 2012, according to an analysis of figures in a new state report.

The figures seem to alleviate concerns that routine road maintenance could suffer because of penalties built into the state law that allowed for the transportation sales tax referendum. GDOT expects to release the new report shortly.

The 10-county region has drawn down $30.3 million from the Georgia Department of Transportation. Eight local governments did not meet the filing deadline and tentatively have left a total of $430,203 in GDOT coffers – money that probably will be distributed elsewhere on a needs basis.
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King’s final frontier: Georgia losing war on poverty, GBPI study calls for new policies to mitigate poverty

A new report shows poverty is expanding in Georgia, a grim reminder of the final frontier Martin Luther King, Jr. had identified before his death.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute found that Georgia residents now comprise the sixth poorest population in the nation. Georgia’s poverty rate is at its highest since 1982. Some 1.8 million Georgians live in poverty – more than 19 percent of the state’s population.

King had announced his Poor People’s Campaign five months before his assassination in April 1968. Five weeks after the shooting, the campaign built an encampment on the National Mall in Washington to house demonstrators for six weeks. Robert Kennedy’s funeral procession passed through Resurrection City in a show of respect, according to Stanford University’s King research institute. Continue reading

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Transit website proposal addresses one component of King legacy

A bipartisan group has formed to promote state legislation that urges metro Atlanta’s transit agencies to establish a single website that would make it easier for passengers to plan and pay for trips.

State Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) sponsored Senate Resolution 735. Co-signers include Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur), Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), and Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega). The Senate Transportation Committee could take it up as early as Wednesday.

The legislation is relevant as the nation pauses to honor the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday. By making it easier to plan and pay for a transit trip, the site may enable people to take a job a distance from their home. Jobs were the subject of a poverty initiative King launched shortly before his death.
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Coke invests $2.1 million in Brazil’s social programs after behest of Atlanta human rights advocates

Coca-Cola Brazil and the Coca-Cola Foundation have agreed to invest $2.1 million in a variety of programs in Brazil that intend to expand opportunities for African-Brazilians.

The investment in Latin America’s largest economy was announced a week before Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is to co-host a delegation of IT companies from Brazil, on Jan. 21. The mayor is to lead a trade delegation to Brazil in April.

Coke’s investment stems from an effort started in Atlanta by veteran advocate Joe Beasley. In August, Beasley led a call for the company to extend Coke’s social responsibility practices to Afro-descendants in Brazil.
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Georgia’s economy growing, but barely, according to Gov. Deal’s budget proposal for FY 2015

If any proof is needed that Georgia’s economy hasn’t turned the corner, it’s evident in Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1.

Deal predicts the state’s revenue will grow by 2.9 percent in FY 2015, compared to the rate of almost 3.6 percent Deal forecast for FY 2014, according to an analysis of figures in Deal’s budget proposal.

In addition, Deal’s FY 2015 budget proposal would borrow just 7 percent more money than proposed in last year’s budget. Still, even with the increase, the amount is 16 percent less than the sum that was proposed in the FY 2007 budget. Continue reading

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Another historically black university in Georgia faces weak finances, negative credit rating from Moody’s

Another historically black university in Georgia has been dinged by a credit rating agency that reported the school had just 20 days of cash on hand on June 30, 2013 and now faces a $2 million shortfall.

Fort Valley State University received a negative outlook from Moody’s Investors Services in a rating action dated Dec. 18. The rating came despite Fort Valley’s affiliation with the University System of Georgia, a relation that has helped Fort Valley in the past.

In July 2012, the affiliation helped Fort Valley achieve an investment grade rating of A3 on bonds sold to finance student housing. In December 2013, Moody’s affirmed its previous decision to lower the bond rating from investment grade to Baa1, a medium investment grade with some speculative risk.
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Rights center to ‘take on the unexpected’ issues of the day, such as Sochi workers, African violence

Metro Atlanta hasn’t paid much attention to two global cases of alleged human rights violations, and yet they are good examples of the flexibility Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights intends to bring to the raising of public awareness.

Allegations of abuse of construction workers preparing for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games have grown over the years. Violence in the Central African Republic has escalated just in the past month. The center’s curators would have ample time to prepare a Sochi program and would have to be nimble in the case of the CAR.

The center expects to meet both types of programming challenges, CEO Doug Shipman said Monday. Continue reading

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Atlanta’s sewers releasing rising amounts of hazards into waterways, city says repairs may cost $40 million

Fecal bacteria and residual chlorine flow at “problematic” levels from Atlanta’s sewer system into waterways and the repair bill could hit $40 million, according to new legislation to be discussed this week by a committee of the Atlanta City Council.

An additional $11 million expense is looming for sewer-related upgrades planned near Turner Field, according to another new proposal. This project results from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s promise to residents of the Peoplestown neighborhood to improve the area following the 2011 flooding within and around the community.

The two items illustrate the reality that despite Reed’s vow during his Jan. 6 inaugural address to champion from $150 million to $250 million in new spending on roads, sidewalks, parks and other above-ground improvements during his second term, the city’s sewer system continues to demand significant amounts of money and attention. Continue reading

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SCLC joins effort to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. with statue at Capitol

The SCLC is adding its voice to the call for Georgia to install a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the State Capitol, on the site left vacant by the removal of a statue of Tom Watson.

Friday at 11 a.m., four leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are slated to deliver this message on the first floor of the Capitol. The Rev. Joseph Lowery, an SCLC president emeritus, expects to attend if his health permits.

“We think it’s the right thing to do,” SCLC CEO Charles Steele, Jr. said Thursday. “Time is of the essence because of the imagery Dr. King can project 50 years after the March on Washington, and the anniversary of the 1964 Voting Rights Bill.”
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Chickamauga Battlefield to benefit from “complete streets” project

Visitors to the sacred grounds in the Chickamauga Battlefield in northwest Georgia will enter the park along an enhanced gateway in Fort Oglethorpe once the state completes a project that’s just received a $3 million federal grant

Casualties numbered 34,000 in the three-day Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. The losses were second during the Civil War only to the 51,000 recorded the previous July at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Today, the main road leading to the battlefield is flanked by towering power lines and disjointed commercial developments. The federal grant will pay for a retooling of 0.8 mile of LaFayette Road to improve its appearance and use by pedestrians and bicyclists. Continue reading

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Mayor Reed’s success over next four years may hinge on who did, and didn’t, vote in November election

Former Mayor Andrew Young said with apparent pride at Monday’s inauguration ceremony that Mayor Kasim Reed was “overwhelmingly reelected” to his second term of office.

While the scope of Reed’s victory is accurate – Reed won 84 percent of the votes – the turnout was the lowest it’s been since at least 2001. Fewer than one in five registered voters cast ballots in Fulton County, home to most of Atlanta’s voters, according to county records.

Two political observers said Tuesday the sparse turnout probably won’t hurt Reed’s ability to implement his agenda. According to political strategist Howard Franklin and political scientist Charles Bullock, a win is a win – for the mayor as well as for two new councilmembers who won citywide posts by some 2,600-plus votes each – in a city with almost 250,000 registered voters just in Fulton County.
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Atlanta’s inaugural ceremony raises hopes for 2014 and beyond

Atlanta will continue to serve humanity as a “city on a hill,” one that nurtures prosperity as it cares for the humble.

This is the aspiration for the coming four years as proclaimed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell in their separate inaugural addresses Monday.

Reed vowed specific programs regarding public education, and college funding for all deserving students; construction of affordable housing at Turner Field and Fort McPherson; stronger criminal justice for repeat offenders and a jail-to-freedom transition. Mitchell cited some of the same goals and said they could be achieved through better collaboration among local governments. Continue reading

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Unlike New York, Atlanta’s mayoral inauguration expected to be mild

Unlike New York City’s mayoral inauguration last week, little controversy is expected to surround Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed as he takes the oath of office Monday.

Atlanta has a history of low-key mayoral inaugurations. It’s just not the Atlanta way for politicians to swing for the fences at these rites of passage. That wasn’t the case in New York on Jan. 1, when a pastor speaking from the inaugural podium referred to “the plantation called New York.”

Likewise, Gov. Nathan Deal and other politicians may offer new insights but probably won’t stir the hornet’s nest in speeches at the Eggs and Issues breakfast to be hosted Jan. 15 by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
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MARTA recruiting bus drivers with “excellent customer service skills”

MARTA is beginning the New Year with a job fair to hire full-time bus operators.

The jobs provide benefits and pay from $13.68 to $19.54 an hour. The jobs fair, for an unspecified number of drivers, is slated from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday at MARTA’s headquarters, located adjacent to the Lindbergh Station.

The hiring program is part of MARTA’s focus on restoring levels of customer service that were trimmed to meet the financial rigors of the Great Recession. MARTA GM Keith Parker has made it clear that MARTA must appeal to riders who have the choice of using the system or driving their own vehicle.
For this jobs fair, the attention to customer service is evident in the first sentence of a flyer:

“MARTA is currently recruiting for professional, customer focused full-time bus operators.”
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Former EPA administrator discusses Georgia Power rate case, role of nuclear power in nation’s energy mix

Georgia’s utility regulator made the right decision in allowing Georgia Power to raise rates to pay for power plant upgrades before the work is complete, according to former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

“What that does is prevent a cliff from developing, where you have to recover costs all at once,” Whitman said. “We have aging infrastructure. That’s a challenge everyone is facing across the country.”

Whitman spoke with SaportaReport.com discuss her concerns about a guest column on solar power. The conversation covered a variety of policy issues related to the nation’s power supply and delivery system.
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Statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. proposed for Georgia’s state capitol

A statue of Martin Luther King Jr. will be installed at the frontage of the Georgia state capitol if lawmakers approve a bill filed by state Rep. Tyrone Brooks.

Brooks said Monday the King statue could be placed on the same spot from which the statue of Tom Watson was recently moved. Any site along that west side of the front of the Capitol would be appropriate, Brooks said.

“We take the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for granted, and I think it’s time we recognize him with a statue of the grounds of the capitol, in the city where he was born just five blocks away,” Brooks said.
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Mayor Reed in 2014 may try to trigger up to $250 million in public works construction projects across city

The stars may be aligning for a vote in Atlanta in 2014 to raise money from taxpayers to hasten repairs of the city’s broken sidewalks, streets, bridges and other public infrastructure.

The bond referendum to which Mayor Kasim Reed recommitted himself Friday could be called in a year large numbers likely will turn out to vote for a U.S. senator and state governor. The timing has pros and cons.

In addition, calling the referendum in 2014 would capitalize on a public awareness campaign on pedestrian safety the state is paying PEDS to conduct in metro Atlanta. The $67,000 grant announced Dec. 12 also is to enable the pedestrian safety advocacy organization to provide technical assistance to governments.
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MARTOC chair praises MARTA’s GM for trajectory of transit agency

Keith Parker is ending his first year as MARTA’s general manager with glowing remarks from the chair of the state legislature’s committee that oversees MARTA.

“I really appreciate everything that is going on right now at MARTA and look forward to an excellent second year, as we have had an excellent first year under Mr. Parker,” said state Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), who chairs the joint House-Senate committee known as MARTOC.

Jacobs delivered his remarks Friday, during MARTOC’s final meeting of the year. The meeting ended a full day for transit leaders, who hosted a “State of MARTA” breakfast at the agency’s headquarters.
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Millennials favor coal-fired power plants, Georgia Power rate hike, says poll released by Sierra Club

Young Georgia voters strongly favor the proposed Georgia Power rate hike and fewer than half support shifting from coal to renewables to generate electricity, according to a results of a poll by the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club.

The polling company advised against reading too much into results from the millennials because the margin of error for the age bracket is 13.2 percent, compared to 3.23 percent for the total poll. The broader results of the poll show widespread opposition to the proposed rate hike and strong support for shifting away from coal-fired power plants.

Georgia Power is requesting to hike its rates in order to raise $873 million. Georgia’s Public Service Commission is slated to vote on the proposal Dec. 17, following a decision Thursday morning by a PSC committee to schedule the matter for a vote by the full commission.
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Atlanta pays about $1 million a month in worker’s comp claims, a higher rate than national average

Atlanta taxpayers have paid more than $44 million over a 45-month period for a worker’s compensation program that is significantly more generous than those of other state and local governments, according to a city audit.

The cost per worker is 58 percent higher than the national average. The number of claims filed by city employees also exceeds the national average for local governments – by 2.5 times, the audit shows.

The situation results from a system that puts claims administration ahead of risk management, according to the audit. For example, Atlanta does not address safety practices with new employees, though it does inform them of how to submit claims and what benefits to expect.
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Georgia DNR board defers consideration of plan intended to expand hog farming across state

Environmentalists are praising a decision by state officials to delay consideration of a proposal to ease regulations on hog farming.

“We applaud the DNR Board for helping to put a stop to the shortsighted rollback,” Chris Manganiello, policy director for Georgia River Network, said in a statement.

The state decided to pull the proposal for further review following the large number of public comments received, most of them negative, DNR spokesman Kevin Chambers said Monday. An additional public notice will be released if the department decides to pursue the proposal, Chambers said.
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From poverty to plenty: Atlanta could be a case study in reducing blight

Two events Wednesday cast outlooks on poverty in metro Atlanta and a path that could lead one poor area toward prosperity.

A Harvard University professor confirmed a shocking report released earlier this year – social conditions in metro Atlanta are such that it is the worst major urban region in the country in terms of children born into poverty moving into the middle or upper economic classes.

At another event, Georgia Tech students outlined their ideas for revitalizing two poor neighborhoods near the Falcons stadium. Some recommendations address the very problems named in the Harvard study that are associated with intergenerational poverty.
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Atlanta BeltLine: Westside Trail advances as city agrees to accept $18 million from US DOT

The Atlanta City Council has authorized Mayor Kasim Reed to take the steps necessary to accept $18 million in federal funding for the Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail.

This TIGER V grant to the BeltLine was announced Sept. 9. The city council’s action is a mere formality, but one that’s required in order for Atlanta to assure the federal government it will comply with rules regarding the use of funds.

Councilmember Aaron Watson introduced the paper at the end of the council’s meeting Monday, as the final legislative act of his term. The funding will enable construction to begin in 2014, possibly as early as the summer.
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Atlanta City Council passes plan for Falcons stadium areas; deal releases $200 million from city for construction

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed prevailed Monday when the Atlanta City Council approved a community benefits deal that will release $200 million in city funds for the future Falcons stadium.

Reed wanted a deal done by year’s end, and the council approved the deal unanimously. But the issue may not be over: Some civic leaders threaten to file a lawsuit to overturn the benefits deal and block the funds.

Invest Atlanta expects to begin accepting applications for projects in January. In addition, the council is to appoint members to a committee it created Monday that’s intended to promote job creation in the stadium neighborhoods.

As if to underscore the extent of blight in stadium neighborhoods, the council approved a $59,126 contract to cover four years of back rent for a police precinct in Vine City.
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Atlanta City Council to seek Braves advice on fixing Ted area, pass Falcons community benefits deal

Never let it be said that the Atlanta City Council doesn’t have a sense of hope and humor.

The council will ask the Atlanta Braves to serve on a task force to recommend ways to spiff up the Turner Field area. The Braves intend to leave the Ted for Cobb County in the the 2017 season.

In addition, the council expects to adopt Monday the community benefits deal regarding the future Falcons stadium, which has riled some civic leaders, and a slate of recommendations on how to bolster Atlanta’s central business district – where the office vacancy rate is among the region’s highest.
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Sustainable wedding: Altar in a pecan orchard draws farmers from near, far

This is the conclusion of our three-part series on Georgia’s sustainable food movement. Links to previous stories are at the bottom of this report.

Gordon – Farm weddings are all the rage these days, but that’s not why Chelsea Losh and Bobby Jones chose a rustic setting.

They live and work on Babe+Sage Farm. These two graduates of Georgia College have worked since summer 2011 to reclaim the old Oetter place and grow it into a sustainable vegetable farm.

Their wedding celebration showed that they have grown a way of life, as well. Friends traveled from farms as far as West Virginia and as near as Sparta. And there was a surprising link involving relatives in Alabama and the Jenny Jack Sun Farm in Pine Mountain.

Rain threatened to dampen the Losh-Jones wedding day, Nov. 23. There never was any real question the venue would be moved from an altar in a pecan orchard, a reception at a barn, and dinner and dancing on a field near the farmhouse.
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Sustainable policies: New regulations may affect backyard farmers, organic growers as rules chase market

Editor’s Note: This is the second story in our three-part series on Georgia’s sustainable food movement. The series concludes Thanksgiving Day with a visit to a farm-to-table wedding.

People should be allowed to grow food for their own consumption on their own property. At least, that’s the theory behind legislation pending in Atlanta City Hall and the Georgia General Assembly.

“Especially during these hard economic times, people ought to be able to raise their own food in their own yard,” said state Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), who sponsored House Bill 618.
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Falcons stadium funding clears hurdle; Atlanta City Council to cast final vote Dec. 2 on last provision

This story has been updated.

The Atlanta City Council is slated to vote Dec. 2 on the community benefits deal that must be approved before the city can provide $200 million in construction funding for the future Falcons stadium.

The council’s Community Development Committee approved an amended deal at 7:20 p.m., almost four hours after residents of stadium neighborhoods first gathered in a crowded council meeting room.

The outcome of the city’s $200 million in stadium funding remains uncertain. Opponents have said they will file a lawsuit to prevent the city from issuing the funds.
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Sustainable packaging: The food container is just as important as the edible contents it transports

Editor’s Note: This is the first story in our three-part series on Georgia’s sustainable food movement. The second story will explore the state of the current sustainable food industry. The conclusion will visit a farm-to-table wedding.

Consumer criticism of the basic styrofoam cup once dimmed the future of Freshens, the large Atlanta-based yogurt and smoothie company.

Freshens’ ditched those non-degradable cups and replaced them with totally compostable ones in a dramatic example of the evolution in food packaging, according to Christian Hardigree, a professor at Kennesaw State University.
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Falcons community benefits deal due amidst public distrust, as attention is diverted by Braves relocation

Expect a tour de force starting Monday from those who are ready to wrap up five months worth of talks about a community benefits deal for three neighborhoods adjacent to the future Falcons stadium.

And expect the discussion to occur in a bit of a vacuum.

Public attention has drifted to Cobb County and the county commission’s scheduled vote Tuesday over public funding for a Braves stadium. In addition, the bulk of the Atlanta communities’ work product on the Falcons deal has already been introduced in the form of a resolution now pending before the Atlanta City Council and up for a vote in committee Tuesday. Continue reading

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Mayor Reed: BeltLine transit should be funded with up to $4 billion in public private partnership

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says the planned transit system along the Atlanta BeltLine should be funded through a public private partnership.

“We’re going to have to have a public private partnership,” Reed said. “We’re going to need to partner with an investor to put up $3 [billion] to $4 billion to put up the rail component. … I believe that is the right way to go because I’d like to ride the light rail while I’m alive.”

If the project moves forward, the price would dwarf the $840 million network of managed lanes the state Department of Transportation is building in Cobb and Cherokee counties alongside I-75 and I-575 through a public private partnership. This project is the largest project of its kind in Georgia history.
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Community cut out of community benefits deal at Falcons stadium; Mayor Reed ready to engage

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is on track to wrap up on Dec. 2 the loose ends of the city’s promise to provide $200 million to the Falcons for a new stadium.

For that to happen, a committee that’s worked on a community benefits plan since July was told Wednesday night that it will not get to recommend a plan to the Atlanta City Council. The political fallout has already begun: Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell says the process has lost credibility; civic leaders talked Wednesday of filing a lawsuit to halt the process of providing the money to the Falcons.

While this controversy was erupting at City Hall, Reed was at a community meeting near Buckhead talking about a number of initiatives for his second term – including the demolition of Turner Field, after the Braves depart in 2017, in order to create a 57-acre tract that will be, Reed said, “wildly attractive to investment.”
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Reed expected to discuss Braves stadium with residents as Falcons community benefits deal up for vote

Discussions at two meetings Wednesday night should shed more light on developments with the Falcons and Braves stadiums.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed likely will discuss the Braves move to Cobb County with the Northwest Community Alliance. Just before that event, a city committee will be asked to adopt a community benefits plan related to the Falcons stadium.

Meanwhile, at a third meeting, city planning officials will discuss a new city report that confirms that Atlanta’s football and baseball stadiums have not brought prosperity to their neighborhoods. New strategies are needed to help these areas flourish, the report shows.
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New report on school funding tees up 2014 gubernatorial campaigns

A new report that calls for overhauling Georgia’s method of paying for K-12 education has landed near the starting gate of a potentially contentious gubernatorial campaign.

State Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur) has put education reform at the front and center of his new platform. Gov. Nathan Deal responded immediately that he has increased the state’s contribution to school funding despite the recession.

The timing couldn’t be better for a report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute that calls for the creation of a funding program to replace the state’s existing school funding formula, known as QBE (Quality Basic Education).
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New report on Atlanta’s housing stock matches Richard Florida’s findings on location of class, wealth

A new report by Atlanta on the city's housing stock confirms a view of the city documented in March by urban demographer Richard Florida  – Atlanta is split in half, with strong neighborhoods to the north and vulnerable ones to the south of a dividing line that passes near the Georgia Tech campus.

One interesting finding in the city’s report is that Buckhead isn’t listed as an exceptional investment area. Instead, that designation is reserved for an area that stretches south from I-85 through Morningside and Poncy-Highland toward Druid Hills. The Buckhead area is ranked as strong or trending.

Atlanta says this report on the city’s housing is the first-of-its-kind study of 285 neighborhoods. It’s intended to enable policymakers to promote equitable residential development throughout the city. The city has scheduled two community meetings to discuss the study’s results – on Monday and Thursday evenings.
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Mayor Reed departs Monday for tour of Panama Canal with Biden, Isakson

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is to leave Monday to meet with Panama President Ricardo Martelli and tour the Panama Canal expansion with Sen. Johnny Isakson and Vice President Joe Biden.

The mayor’s participation in the economic development trip was announced Friday, as discussion continues over the decision by the Atlanta Braves to move to Cobb County.

The trip comes right after Gov. Nathan Deal announced his plans to provide an additional $35 million in state funding for the proposed deepening of the Savannah port. The deepening is needed to handle the larger vessels expected to transit the bigger Panama Canal.
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Falcons funding deal oh so close, but politics and opposition could extend debate into first quarter of 2014

The stage is all but set for the Atlanta City Council to approve on Dec. 2 the community benefits deal that’s required for the city to provide its $200 million to help pay for a new Falcons stadium.

Whether that will happen remains a huge question. There likely is a good deal of political pressure mounting on one side for the council to pass the measure, and on the other to defer a vote until two newly elected citywide councilmembers take office in January – Andre Dickens and Mary Norwood. Both were opposed by Mayor Kasim Reed.

In addition, a scathing YouTube video was posted late Thursday. The two co-spokesmen are the Rev. Anthony Motley and the Rev. W.L. Cottrell, Sr. – both with deep ties to the stadium communities and both of whom have criticized the city’s process for crafting a community benefits deal. Continue reading

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ATL chief: Paulding County’s planned airport won’t thrive in tough industry

The planned commercial airport in Paulding County won’t do well in the competitive airline business, the chief of Atlanta’s airport on Wednesday told members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

“The possibility of a second airport thriving is not so likely,” Louis Miller, general manager of Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport, told a group gathered in Atlanta for the annual State of the Ports Luncheon and Transportation Conference.

Hurdles at the proposed commercial airport include high operating costs for airlines, the trend toward bigger jet aircraft, and the history of aviation that favors new airports being built to relieve crowding at  smaller, older airports, Miller said.
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Cobb County’s coliseum authority may have capacity to fund Braves stadium within its existing powers

A public authority in Cobb County may have the financial capacity to help pay for the planned Atlanta Braves stadium without a vote by the public, the county Board of Commissioners or a city council.

The Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority (Cobb-Marietta) has the sole power to set the hotel tax rate, according to state law. The Braves began talks with the coliseum authority in July, according to espn.com.

The coliseum authority now operates three destinations in the Cumberland area near the site of the planned Braves ballpark – Cobb Galleria Centre, Galleria Specialty Shops, and the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Continue reading

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Braves in Cobb: Traffic, transit access to stadium near Cumberland Mall may be less a nightmare than some predict

The notion offered by the Atlanta Braves that fans will find it easier to get to a ballgame in Cobb County than in downtown Atlanta ran into a buzz saw of criticism Monday.

“What a traffic nightmare!! I-75 and I-285 are already [troubled],” a writer identified as MayorDowning commented on ajc.com. “Now you’re adding to it.”

In reality, the Cobb site isn’t a hopeless traffic nightmare. The planned ballpark is alongside Gov. Nathan Deal’s major highway initiative. It’s in the middle of a grid of big roads served by three interstate highways. And it’s about a mile from the transfer station of Cobb’s bus system and its linkage to MARTA.
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Buckhead CID plans precisely for public gardens along Peachtree Road

It takes thousands and thousands of flowering plants to keep the Buckhead business district looking like a million dollars.

Just last week, the Buckhead Community Improvement District went to market with a request for proposals to maintain all the greenery in public spaces within the CID. Proposals are due Nov. 18 and, keeping in step with the times, questions are being accepted only by eco-friendly email.

The greenscape request for proposals provides an insight into the level of detail the Buckhead CID pays to its common spaces. Consider the requisites for only the seasonal color on the segment of Peachtree Road from Maple Drive to Peachtree Dunwoody Road:
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Chief of Americans for Progress-Ga departing for position with Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition

The head of the Georgia branch of oil billionaire brothers Charles Koch and David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity announced her resignation Friday.

Virginia Galloway, state director of AFP-Georgia, sent an email saying she will take a new position early next year with the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Ralph Reed serves as president of FFC.

Galloway leaves AFP as a major tax reform proposal is ramping up for debate in the 2014 session of the state General Assembly. Galloway has been a leading voice in the fair tax movement and testified in favor of it in July before the Senate Fair Tax Study Committee.
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$1.1 billion in spending approved Tuesday by metro Atlanta voters for roads, redevelopment, schools

If metro Atlanta voters aren’t willing to pay higher taxes to ease traffic congestion and promote schools and development, that’s not the message they sent in Tuesday’s elections.

Voters approved more than $1.1 billion worth of spending in five jurisdictions – $852 million for projects including roads and urban renewal, and $280 million for the Clayton County school district.

Voters in Peachtree City approved a tax incentive program that favors development. Fairburn voters rejected an identical proposal. Two cities approved Sunday alcohol sales – Dacula and Palmetto. All votes results are unofficial pending certification. Continue reading

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New Airport West CID hangs in balance as influential backers eye decision of Fulton tax commissioner

The year-long effort to create a special tax district near Atlanta’s airport in order to promote economic development may be near a successful conclusion.

On Wednesday, representatives of the Fulton County tax commissioner and the proposed Airport West CID are slated to meet to see if they can clear up some discrepancies. The tax commissioner’s report, released Monday, showed the CID missed the mark by 4 percent of property owners.

“There are a couple of hundred houses that have been listed as commercial properties,” said Emory Morsberger, who is helping to lead the effort. “Once we figure out how to knock out the residential, we’ll exceed the threshold very nicely.”
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Atlanta welcomes kempt vendors; MARTA to allow food concessions in 2015, starting with four stations

A trip to downtown Atlanta may soon include the chance to buy snacks and souvenirs and even a meal from vendors along Atlanta’s sidewalks and in MARTA stations.

The Atlanta City Council approved a plan Monday that is to have vendors back on the streets before Christmas. MARTA could have sandwich shops and coffee kiosks in stations within two years, based on results of a study due by February.

One thing everyone in charge agrees is that the vending programs will look nothing like the “Third World flea market on steroids” that set up shop in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympic Games, to cite a description coined by Dick Yarbrough, chief communications officer for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.
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Atlanta vendors could work before Christmas as Mayor Reed, AJC spar over Reed’s handling of issue

Atlanta’s street vendors could be back in business before the Christmas holiday season if the Atlanta City Council approves Monday the proposal submitted by Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.

The council is expected to vote for the proposal that was passed Oct. 29 by the council’s Public Safety Committee, though the committee left the door open for any last-minute revisions to be made before the final vote. Vendors generally support the plan.

The politics of the vending issue now unfold in a very public debate between Reed and Kyle Wingfield, a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This back-and-forth arises even as Reed’s reelection campaign is promoting a brochure featuring positive comments about Reed published in the AJC. Continue reading

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ARC’s State of the Region breakfast returns to message of hope, progress

The tone of this year’s annual ARC State of the Region breakfast was dramatically different from the 2012 event.

The 2013 State of the Region returned to traditional themes of hope and progress that were notably absent from last year’s event. The 2012 breakfast seemed overshadowed by a subtext of “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” despite a sour economy and voter rejection of a proposed sales tax for transportation.

The event Friday looked ahead to long-term prosperity expected to come out of an emerging development trend that’s been quantified in a recent report by urban land use strategist and developer Chris Leinberger, the keynote speaker. In addition, the ARC formally unveiled a survey showing that two thirds of respondents are happy to call the region their home.
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Post Properties sells Renaissance in downtown Atlanta as corporate revenues dip lower than expected

Atlanta-based Post Properties has sold its Renaissance community in downtown Atlanta for a price that exceeded the company’s expectations.

The sales price was a bright spot in a quarterly report released Wednesday that showed the company’s revenue forecast has slowed more than expected. The decline prompted the company to reduce rents in order to maintain occupancy rates going into winter, though evidently not in the Atlanta market because leasing here remains strong.

Post announced it had closed the sale of Renaissance for a gross price of $47.5 million. Renaissance is the second Atlanta property Post has sold in the past two years. In early 2012, Post sold its 35 percent ownership in the Post Biltmore for a gross price of $51 million.
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Ga. Tech students may shape another metro Atlanta community: Three Falcons stadium neighborhoods

Another game-changing proposal to renew a portion of metro Atlanta is coming out of Georgia Tech and it is to be presented to the public Wednesday.

A dozen students studying for their masters degree in Tech’s School of City & Regional Planning have proposed a 12-page set of recommendations intended to improve neighborhoods within a mile radius of the future Falcons stadium. Officials with Invest Atlanta are reviewing the report and may use some of it to write the first draft of a community benefits deal.

Students at Tech already have produced ideas that have remade the face of Atlanta. Atlantic Station and the Atlanta BeltLine are two that may be the most dramatic, and therefore the most widely known.
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Proposal that could expand hog farming, waste lagoons in Georgia draws fire from environmentalists

A proposal that could increase the number of hogs farmed in Georgia is drawing criticism from environmentalists concerned about hog excrement.

Hogs produce a lot of waste – about four times that of a human. The current practice for handling hog waste on industrial-scale farms is to store it in earthen basins, called lagoons, until it can be sprayed on surrounding lands.

The concerns raised by the Georgia Water Coalition involve the handling of this amount of waste in this manner. They point to the experience in North Carolina, where heavy rains from a hurricane in 1999 caused lagoons to flood and fail, spreading millions of gallons of hog waste that found its way into rivers and private water wells.
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ARC chairman’s race attracts citizen member, mayor, two county chairmen

The top elected position at the Atlanta Regional Commission is now open and four candidates are vying for the job – three elected officials and one citizen member.

ARC Chairman Tad Leithead announced Wednesday that he will not seek reelection as chairman. Leithead said he does hope the ARC board will reelect him as a citizen member, a role in which he said he’s served for 14 years. The election is Dec. 4.

The candidates include a citizen member, a mayor, and two county commission chairs: Kerry Armstrong, a citizen member from Gwinnett County who’s a senior vice president with the development firm Pope & Land Enterprise; Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson; Rockdale County Chairman Richard Oden; and Douglas County Chairman Tom Worthan.
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Stadium financiers: Donate some of your profits from bond deals to poor communities, councilman says

Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr. said Wednesday the financiers who profit from the sale of bonds for the new Falcons stadium should donate some of their profits to the nearby communities.

The proposal indicates the escalation of expectations that the future stadium should transform one of the poorest sections of Atlanta. A $30 million urban renewal fund is proving to be far from adequate to address reported community needs.

Young said it’s only fair that bond counsel and underwriters return to the communities some of the significant profits they stand to reap when they handle more than $1 billion in construction funding for the stadium. Young faces two challengers in the Nov. 5 city election.
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Little things could improve life for neighbors of Falcons stadium

No public urination. No open containers of alcoholic beverage. No loud noises. No open grilling and no tailgating.

These requests are on the wish list for the Castleberry Hill neighborhood, a list its residents hope will be included in a pending community benefits deal for the future Falcons stadium. Quality-of-life matters are joined by bigger items, such as a community center with a museum and repairs to bridges and sidewalks.

The list is to be presented Wednesday at Atlanta City Hall, where city officials and civic leaders are to continue discussing how to allocate $30 million through a community benefits deal. Two other stadium neighborhoods can’t agree on a project list and don’t have one to present for Vine City and English Avenue.
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Stadium benefits deal nearing conclusion, but likely to continue after meeting Wednesday at City Hall

Discussions over a community benefits deal for neighborhoods near the new Falcons stadium are heading toward a conclusion but aren’t expected to be finalized at a meeting Wednesday evening.

One of three neighborhoods has voted on its wish list from the benefits deal, which includes a total of $30 million in public and private money. Castleberry Hill residents are ready to advance their final proposal, but plans for English Avenue and Vine City still are up in the air because of disagreements among civic leaders in those two communities – where millions of dollars were distributed to various groups as the Georgia Dome was established.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has indicated he’d like a final deal to be signed Wednesday night. But the amount of work still to be done indicates additional negotiations will be necessary, which seems to push a final deal after the Nov. 5 city elections.
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Atlanta to pay security firm same amount for five months work as for two years of guarding city venues

The Atlanta City Council is slated to approve Monday a $3.3 million, five-month contract for a security firm to provide guards at city venues, an amount that’s close what it paid the same company for two years of service, city records show.

The pending proposal is to pay $3.295 million for a five-month contract. In May 2011, the council approved a contract for $3.262 million for two years of security guard services provided by Atlanta-based Norred & Associates, Inc.

In addition to the new contract, the council also is slated to approve legislation to pay Norred $109,357 for the work it had done between the expiration of its contract, this past May, and the Aug. 28 date noted as the start of the five-month period outlined in the new contract. The legislation authorizes guards to be armed while patrolling city property.
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Willis to Franklin, Woolard, Dickens: Mind your ethics before attacking mine; Franklin fires back

Atlanta City Councilmember H. Lamar Willis said Friday that former Mayor Shirley Franklin, former council President Cathy Woolard and candidate Andre Dickens are hypocrites for saying that Willis is ethically unfit for public office.

Willis made his remarks on the steps of Atlanta City Hall. Willis, who is seeking his fourth term, said he is a human being who has sought to atone for missteps in his personal life, wants the campaign to focus on governance issues, and is pushing back against the two former elected officials.

Willis raised these ethical issues about his accusers: Franklin provided haven in her home to her daughter and her then-son-in-law, who’s now serving a life sentence for his role in smuggling more than a ton of cocaine in a transcontinental operation; Woolard stopped working for Atlanta half way through her term in order to focus on her (unsuccessful) campaign for Congress; Dickens was a resident of Rex, not Atlanta, when he filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and evidently moved there in order to avoid tapping his wife’s assets to pay his creditors.
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Fulton County, its cities face fiscal cliff of their own creation; Thursday deadline set by state attorney general

Fulton County and all the cities in it could fall off their own fiscal cliff on Thursday. Atlanta could lose tax revenues that pay for 19 percent of its current year budget.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told the Atlanta City Council in a special session Wednesday evening that the future is uncertain for a major source of sales tax revenues shared by Fulton County and all its cities. Unless Atlanta signs an existing distribution agreement for the 1 percent local option sales tax, Fulton may not be able to continue to levy the tax, Reed said.

The urgency is arising because Atlanta’s lawyers evidently were unprepared for a ruling last week from the Georgia Supreme Court. In a case out of Turner County, in south Georgia, justices tossed out an arbitration process concerning LOST distribution formulas that Atlanta intended to use to seek a bigger bite of LOST revenues.
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Willis unfit for office, say Franklin, Woolard; Attack ads possible against Franklin for role in council campaign

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard said Tuesday that Councilmember H. Lamar Willis is unfit for public office because of his ethical misconduct and should be replaced by challenger Andre Dickens.

Franklin and Woolard, who passed strict ethics legislation in 2002, made their comments at an endorsement event for Dickens, a first-time candidate who seeks to unseat Willis from a citywide post in the Nov. 5 election.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed remains a major backer of Willis, who on Oct. 7 was disbarred from the practice of law by the Georgia Supreme Court for ethical breaches. Recent telephone polls reportedly have tested Franklin’s popularity, an indication that the sitting mayor who backed candidate Reed in the heated three-way 2009 mayoral campaign may come under attack for her involvement in this 2013 citywide council race.
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As Wall Street buys houses as investments, local leaders plan response to protect affordability

Now that it’s no secret that Wall Street investors are buying distressed houses in metro Atlanta for the emerging homes-for-lease industry, the question is what that means for the surrounding neighborhoods and the future of homeownership.

John O’Callaghan, who heads ANDP, the region’s major non-profit focused on the foreclosure response, suggests that local leaders try to leverage the private sector’s investments to benefit the rest of the community.

There’s a lot to leverage. Just one firm, the Blackstone Group, has purchased more than 1,400 homes in metro Atlanta as part of more than $4 billion the firm has invested in 24,000 houses nationwide since 2012, according to a story in April in businessweek.com.
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Lead partner in Gulch project to sell 70 percent of its Brooklyn deal to state-owned Chinese developer

A subsidiary of the lead developer of the Gulch in downtown Atlanta has a tentative deal to sell 70 percent of its stake in a Brooklyn project to a Chinese firm in order to raise cash to continue the work on the $5 billion Atlantic Yards.

If the deal goes through, it will be the largest commercial real estate deal in the U.S. ever to involve direct backing from a state-owned Chinese development company, according to a story posted Friday on wsj.com.

Forest City Ratner Cos., a subsidiary of Gulch-developer Forest City Enterprises, has been unable to arrange financing for housing promised for low- and middle-income families at its Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, according to wsj.com. Although Forest City opened Barclays Center in 2012, home of the Brooklyn Nets, the developer has been criticized for failing to meet obligations related to its winning approval for the center, the report said. Continue reading

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Proud day for future pipefitter: She was graduated and hugged her son

Jacquelyn Treadville-Samuels is on her way to becoming a pipefitter. After commencement Thursday, the single mom hugged her 8-year-old son and said she’s considering a career in underwater welding.

“The pay’s good, and it would allow me the time to do other things, to give back,” Treadville-Samuels said in an auditorium bustling with beaming graduates and their families.

In all, eight women were graduated from the first all-female pre-apprenticeship program offered by Georgia Trade-Up. All now have the documented job-readiness skills needed to gain admission to construction trades apprenticeship programs or the construction industry. They are to enter the job market as $2 billion in construction is supposed to begin in downtown Atlanta.
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MARTA to unveil new buses in festive event reminiscent of its glory days

As part of its new effort to promote the positive, MARTA on Thursday will display one of its new CNG buses at the Five Points Station.

MARTA, not wanting to spoil the surprise, is not releasing photos of the new buses until after the event, which is slated from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The buses feature an updated logo and eye-catching elements, according to a MARTA statement.

The festivity of displaying the bus harkens to an era when the region celebrated the opening of transit stations and the arrival of new vehicles. Top MARTA officials are slated to convene an official welcoming ceremony from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
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Atlanta’s business, civic leaders content with performance of mayor, most city council members

Atlanta’s business and civic leaders are generally satisfied with the performance of the mayor and most councilmembers, according to a score sheet of incumbents and challengers released in advance of the Nov. 5 municipal election.

Mayor Kasim Reed received a score of 99 out of 100, for a rating of “excellent.” Council President Ceasar Mitchell received a score of 92, “excellent.”

In the campaigns for three citywide council posts, Councilmember Aaron Watson received a score of 95 and challenger Mary Norwood, a former councilmember and mayoral candidate, received a score of 86; Councilmember H. Lamar Willis received a score 92 and challenger Andre Dickens received a score of 83; Councilperson Michael Julian Bond, who is unopposed, received a score of 91.
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Piece by Piece conference focuses on stabilizing neighborhoods in era of great change in housing market

The great recession has fundamentally altered some neighborhoods in metro Atlanta, and their future is unclear as homes have moved and continue to move through the foreclosure process.

More than 40 percent of the 7,789 homes now in the sales pipeline, or heading to the pipeline, are in the pre-foreclosure, auction, or bank-owned stages of the foreclosure process, according to a recent report of sales tracked by trulia.com, a real estate marketplace. Wall Street investors are purchasing a significant number of homes in metro Atlanta, according to published reports.

At a conference Thursday, a variety of local and national housing leaders will discuss the issue of how to ensure the long-term health and vitality of metro Atlanta neighbors in this time of great change. The program is sponsored by Piece by Piece, a regional foreclosure effort; Atlanta Regional Commission; and Enterprise Community Partners.
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Leinberger’s latest on metro Atlanta: Era of sprawl ending, WalkUPs are next cycle of development

Chris Leinberger’s new report on metro Atlanta recharges his thesis that walkable communities will characterize the region’s next wave of development.

“Metro Atlanta, the ‘poster child of sprawl,’ is now experiencing the end of spawl,” Leinberger contends in the report released Thursday, “The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Atlanta.”

Atlanta is the second city Leinberger examined in what may well become a series of “WalkUP Wake-Up” studies. Washington, D.C. was the subject of a 2012 report, and other cities being contemplated for future analysis include Boston and Detroit.
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Atlanta street vending: No action on new program, but help for city’s legal defense against mounting lawsuits

Atlanta continues to struggle to create a street vending program and on Tuesday again deferred action.

Meanwhile, lawsuits continue to mount over the vending issue, a city attorney on Tuesday told the Public Safety Committee of the Atlanta City Council. The committee did approve a measure intended to help the city defend itself from these lawsuits.

Five months have passed since the committee passed a motion calling on Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration to present by May 14 a solid recommendation for a vending ordinance. Reed’s deputy COO, Hans Utz, wants to address the committee before it passes an ordinance introduced by committee Chairperson Michael Julian Bond, Bond said Tuesday.
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Award-winning architecture from around world vastly different from Atlanta’s iconic structures

Georgia Tech has opened an exhibit that offers an alternative perspective to the spectacular architecture that’s so popular among metro Atlanta’s civic leaders.

The structures shown in the exhibit whisper, “less is more.” In Atlanta, it sometimes seems that “’more’ is not enough,” as the word “iconic” is attached to future projects ranging from retrofitted bridges over the Downtown Connector to the Falcons stadium.

The concepts on display in the Aga Khan Award for Architecture Exhibit include sustainable design and vernacular architecture, which are honored in the Muslim culture. One previous winner is Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate who hopes to start a bank in Atlanta to provide micro-loans to help poor people open businesses.
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Higher local match for state road funding appears in counties that rejected transportation sales tax

The financial consequences of last year’s transportation sales tax referendum are starting to appear in the coffers of local governments throughout Georgia.

Counties that passed the sales tax have to match 10 percent to receive money from the state to maintain roads. Counties that rejected the tax – including metro Atlanta and most of Georgia – have to match 30 percent of the grant to receive any allocations from this pot of money.

The first round of checks has been released in the first time this formula has been used. In addition, this is the first use of a new state program the state Legislature created in 2009 in an attempt to streamline the state’s previous method of providing money to local governments to repair and maintain roads. Continue reading

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“Best Hair in Atlanta” contest begins beauty industry’s effort to groom, inspire homeless persons

Several leaders in Atlanta’s beauty industry are turning their attention to helping the homeless and will start with an event Sunday.

“If I want to apply for a job and my hair is terrible, what do I do?” was the question posed by Jakki Dee, a longtime fixture in Atlanta’s beauty industry and owner a Buckhead salon.

Dee’s answer was to spearhead a fundraising event that he hopes will lead to the opening of a salon where the homeless can get free hair care. Among the 25 participating salons are Van Michael and Richie Arpino – two leaders in Atlanta’s vibrant cosmetology industry.
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Metro Atlanta’s path to more foreign exports could begin with survey

The foreign export initiative underway in metro Atlanta begins with a simple question in an online survey that could help make the case for the deepening the Savannah harbor.

The question is, “Does your company currently export?” That is the starting point of a survey the Metro Atlanta Chamber intends to use to establish a game plan by mid 2014 to boost the region’s foreign exports. Chamber membership is not required to participate.

Metro Atlanta now is ranked 13th in the nation in terms of exports from the country’s 100 most-populated cities, according to a fresh report by the Global Cities Initiative. The report also shows metro Atlanta is losing ground to other regions in certain categories, even as Atlanta’s airport bustles with foreign travelers and the Savannah port project attracts a visit from Vice President Biden, as it did last week. Continue reading

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Metro Atlanta’s regional rival for global connectivity is in Carolinas – and it’s not Charlotte

Forget Charlotte. Metro Atlanta’s rival for the title of the southeast’s most globally connected city may well be Greenville, S.C.

The Greenville-Spartanburg corridor punches far above its weight in terms of foreign exports. Greenville, by itself, ranks as the 11th most export-intensive metro area in the nation, according to a joint report prepared by the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase for the Global Cities Initiative.

Metro Atlanta, on the other hand, has lost ground over the past decade among the nation’s 100 largest cities in terms of the proportion of its output that was exported. Metro Atlanta now ranks with Harrisburg, Memphis and Little Rock for exporting less than 15 percent of the output of their top industry, according to a new report from the Global Cities Initiative.
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Stadium communities file wish-lists as limits of city’s $15 million promise hit home for community benefits deal

Time is getting short if a community benefits deal for the future Falcons stadium is to be approved this year.

The calendar is filling with campaign events for the Atlanta City Council elections on Nov. 5. The final council meeting of the year is scheduled for Dec. 2. The clock matters because Atlanta cannot provide any of its $200 million in stadium construction funds until after the council approves a benefits deal, and the Falcons are said to want to begin construction in the first three months of 2014.

Meantime, limitations are becoming evident in the stadium’s ability to spark the urban renewal that’s to be guided by a benefits deal. The city’s $15 million won’t begin to address the wish list. Community morale hasn’t been helped by the discovery of the source of that $15 million.
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New study of Georgia’s school funding questions state’s ability to provide skilled workforce to business

A new report on state funding for K-12 education raises some challenging questions about Georgia’s ability to provide a skilled workforce to businesses – especially in areas beyond metro Atlanta.

School districts are coping with funding cuts through measures including trimming days from the school year and assigning more students to each teacher, according to the report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. School budgets are squeezed by shrinking state support and by the declining local tax base caused by the recession, the report states.

Even as school districts are strapped, the Georgia Department of Economic Development is touting Georgia’s workforce development policies including its support for charter schools, pre-K programs, HOPE scholarships, and strong public technical schools and universities. Georgia has adopted common core standards in math and language arts, and allocates extra funding to districts that provide gifted programs, according to DEcD’s webpage. Continue reading

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HUD secretary says taxes from rising property values caused by urban renewal can fund affordable housing

Twenty years ago, the media gathered in Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood likely would have there to report a homicide.

On Tuesday, the media was there to cover Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and U.S. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan proclaiming the renewal of the once-blighted community as a national success story about public private partnerships.

The transformation of the old East Lake Meadows housing project is so profound that nearby homes are now priced at up to $775,000. Donovan said rising property values are a good thing in a city, and that the increased property taxes enable local governments – such as Atlanta’s – to provide programs that keep such neighborhoods affordable to households with a mix of incomes:
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Stadium benefits: Future jobs could be fostered in environment, history, even early childhood development

The strategic plan to renew blighted neighborhoods near the future Falcons stadium seems to address the issue of local hiring that some advocates hope the Atlanta City Council will include in its stadium funding legislation.

“At the heart of the plan is the provision of a road map to sustainable job creation and transformative human capital development for the residents of the Westside TAD neighborhoods,” the plan states.

The report predicts that jobs – other than as shop clerks – will be created in English Avenue and Vine City. Fields are to include environmental clean-up; culture, history and the arts; early childhood learning; and construction. The report, prepared for Invest Atlanta, also describes the role of a proposed training center to prepare future workers.
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Atlanta plans to plant 4,000 new trees, use hungry goats and sheep to eat invasive plants on public land

Atlanta’s famed and beloved urban forest is to be expanded by about 4,000 trees by April 15, 2015 under an agreement with Trees Atlanta the Atlanta City Council is slated to adopt Monday.

Sheep and goats are to be grazed on public lands in an effort to combat invasive plants, according to another part of the pending legislation. Trees Atlanta promises that the grazing will be overseen by trained volunteers at no cost to the city.

The planting comes at a time Atlanta’s trees have been stressed by years of drought, followed by a summer of exceptionally high amounts of rainfall that has saturated the soil.
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Georgia delegation to military: “Keep … promise” to provide Atlanta vets a commissary at Fort Mac or Dobbins

Georgia’s two senators and 12 congressmen sent a letter Wednesday to the Department of Defense, requesting the commissary at Fort McPherson remain open until a replacement is opened at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. The closure is set for Sept. 28.

“These heroes have earned this benefit through service to their nation. … Service members and veterans in the Atlanta area deserve access to the commissary they were promised by their government,” states the letter sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Lithonia) and signed by all but two members of Georgia’s congressional delegation.

The battle to keep the commissary open is the latest wrinkle in the military’s plan to convert the shuttered base to civilian use. Progress on residential and commercial redevelopment has been waylaid by the great recession and other issues.
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Cousins Properties buys Texas towers in focused effort to expand beyond Atlanta region

Cousins Properties, Inc. – a bellwether Atlanta-based REIT – has closed its previously announced purchases of two office projects in Texas for a total cash price of $1.1 billion.

The two purchases increase Cousins presence in one of the fastest growing regions of the country, according to urban demographer Joel Kotkin, who’s been including the Third Coast since at least 2011 in his list of the nation’s growth corridors.

The Cousins deal includes a 10-building office project in Houston, which Kotkin names as “the clear center” of a mega region that stretches along the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Florida. Houston was the destination of this year’s LINK delegation, which was covered extensively by Maria Saporta. Continue reading

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Falcons stadium: Local hiring plan still to be addressed in discussions of community benefits deal

The issue of how to harness the economic power of the future Falcons stadium in order to create jobs for lower income residents of nearby neighborhoods has received scant attention in the discussion to date.

Now the jobs forecast is in: 1,300 new jobs are predicted in the city’s redevelopment plan that covers English Avenue and Vine City, but not Castleberry Hill – which is supposed to be part of the deal. Of these jobs, 47 appear to be temporary construction-related jobs; 891 appear to be permanent jobs in retail shops and a hotel; and the tasks associated with 362 jobs are not specified in the plan.

There has yet to be a significant discussion of the creation of local hiring program to give nearby residents a first crack at these jobs – let alone jobs building the stadium.  Yet such a program is not new ground, because Atlanta has established provisions relating to jobs in previous community benefits deals.
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Poverty grows to Atlanta’s suburbs as researchers show it “taxes the brain”

Discussion of poverty and the lack of mobility in U.S. suburbs, particularly in Atlanta’s suburbs, seems to be hitting a new high.

Just last week, a speaker from the Brookings Institution named three primary causes of the spike in poverty rates in Atlanta’s close-in suburbs: The foreclosure crisis; shortage of transit in the suburbs; and housing vouchers that facilitated a move from the inner city to communities with smaller safety nets.

For Kim Anderson, the CEO of Families First who was on the panel with Alan Berube, of Brookings, the spread of poverty raises one troubling question: “Are we going to repeat what we did in the urban community in the suburban communities?” Continue reading

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Falcons stadium: Residents question $15 million city had earmarked before deal reached among city, state, team

The $15 million offered by Atlanta to fix up neighborhoods around the planned Falcons stadium is the subject of an emerging controversy.

The money had already been earmarked for the neighborhoods before the stadium deal was announced in March, according to an Invest Atlanta official. A planning firm had already been hired to recommend how the money be spent.

In that case, the sum shouldn’t be counted toward efforts to help mitigate stadium-related issues such as traffic and storm water runoff, according to neighborhood leaders who serve on the committee that’s guiding the stadium-related community benefits deal.
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Suburban poverty calls for regional approach; MARTA ridership affected by quest for affordable housing

In a region still wracked by the lingering recession, metro Atlanta leaders are escalating the conversation about poverty in the suburbs.

At the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum’s quarterly meeting Wednesday, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution drew a bright line under a grim statement reported by the ARC in February: “Metro Atlanta had the highest percentage-point increase in suburban poverty among the 20 most populous metro areas in the nation.”

On a related point, MARTA GM Keith Parker said last week that the dip in MARTA ridership has coincided with the quest for affordable housing that has prompted long-time transit riders to move from the urban core to the suburbs. Once there, the former transit riders find other means of transportation, Parker said at an Aug. 30 meeting of Georgia Stand-Up.
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Stadium deal: Clock ticks as city, neighborhoods deal on jobs, public safety, other community benefits

To get a sense of the complexity of providing assistance to neighborhoods near the future Falcons stadium, consider the case of just one house built under a benefits program created when the Georgia Dome was built.

The house at 221 Maple St. was built with a $79,000 construction loan from the $8 million Vine City Trust Fund. Vine City Housing Ministry, Inc. sold the house in 2002 for $118,000. Today the house is valued by Fulton County at $28,900 and the trust fund is owed just over $59,000 of the $76,100 in mortgage financing it provided the buyer, according to records of Invest Atlanta and Fulton County’s tax assessor.

Multiply this type of dynamic across multiple issues – job creation, environmental mitigation, public health and safety, historic preservation, and green space – and the task of finalizing a community benefits deal in the next four weeks of September takes on a whole new perspective.
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Labor Day: Female pipefitter in training gives thanks for Trade-Up’s pre-apprenticeship program

As the United States pauses to honor workers on Labor Day, one Atlanta mother is thankful and proud that she’s on her way to becoming a pipefitter.

Jacquelyn Treadville-Samuels is changing careers after working as a forensic science technician in Atlanta and Alabama. She lost her taste for that work after caring for her cancer-stricken mother in Alabama. She returned to Atlanta and became homeless while looking for a job.

“This is a dream come true,” Treadville-Sanders said outside the auditorium where members of Georgia Stand-Up had just applauded the first all-female class of pre-apprentice trainees in its Trade-Up program. “I’ve prayed for something like this, but I never knew is would be like this.”
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A new MARTA: Good news highlighted by GM Keith Parker

MARTA GM Keith Parker on Friday painted a portrait of MARTA that’s dramatically improved from the doom-and-gloom image sketched in last year’s management audit by KPMG.

Parker presented MARTA as a service provider that’s determined to balance its budget by raising money through land leases and improving customer service so more people want to use the system. One dramatic indicator of the new approach: MARTA is hiring bus drivers, as opposed to slashing payroll expenses.

As for media reports about expanding service in the Ga. 400 corridor, Parker said the route will go into the pot for consideration with two other routes that have long been considered: I-20 east and the Clifton corridor. “For whatever reason, 400 caught the attention of the media; but as I stressed to them, 400 is not a favorite,” Parker said during a presentation to Georgia Stand-Up.
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50th Commemoration: Reed, Obama discuss youth violence as world prepares for bell-ringing at 3 p.m.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was among the group of 18 mayors who met Tuesday at the White House with President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss strategies to reduce youth violence.

The meeting came as some in the nation are looking for ways to continue to the spirit of progress observed in the 50th commemoration, on Wednesday, of the March on Washington and its message of jobs, justice and freedom.

In Atlanta, city council President Ceasar Mitchell has urged those in the city, and nation, to join in the “Let Freedom Ring” celebration. At precisely 3 p.m., local time, bells and devices that sound like bells are set to ring across the globe, according to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
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Georgia Tech’s research, economic development wing clipped by Great Recession, credit agency suggests

The harsh economy hasn’t spared a nonprofit entity created to support Georgia Tech’s efforts to promote high-tech research and economic development.

Georgia Advanced Technology Ventures, Inc., which oversees projects including the acclaimed Technology Square and Technology Enterprise Park, is scraping by on a bare-bones budget, according to a rating action from Moody’s Investors Services.

Stephen Fleming, a Tech vice president who serves as GATV’s CEO, said Monday that GATV will continue to work on its core mission.
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Clues of interest rate on Falcons stadium bonds may come from another Atlanta bond sale Tuesday

Atlanta is scheduled to sell more than $550 million in revenue bonds Tuesday in order to refinance existing water and sewer bonds, according to bondbuyer.com.

The refund itself appears unexceptional, though the sale may have prompted credit rating agencies to review – and improve the rating on – Atlanta’s $3.1 billion in outstanding wastewater system revenue bonds.

However, the sale planned for Tuesday does offer a window into the current state of municipal debt at a time Atlanta prepares to sell $200 million in bonds for a new Falcons stadium. Atlanta will be selling into a volatile market in which buyers demand increasingly high interest rates for bonds maturing in more than 10 years, according to an Aug. 8 report by Morgan Stanley Wealth Management: Continue reading

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Gov. Deal’s trade trip to Asia: Chinese phosphate plant to open near Savannah; tourism pitch on agenda

Gov. Nathan Deal announced Thursday, on the first day of his trade mission to Asia, that a leading Chinese phosphates producer will open its U.S. headquarters and a manufacturing plant in Effingham County.

The agreement continues Georgia’s traditional efforts to secure foreign direct investment. This trip also intends to foster China’s tourism to Georgia, and nurture the relationship with Georgia’s second-largest export market.

The trip represents Georgia’s attention to China, the world’s largest travel spender and soon-to-be top oil importer. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed led a trade mission to China in March 2012, aiming to focus the country’s importers on metro Atlanta’s offerings such as bio-tech products and engineering services.
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Metro Atlanta after Great Recession: Hanging in, way off 30-year averages

Metro Atlanta continues to bob along in the debris left by the Great Recession, according to two recent reports.

The Atlanta Regional Commission used the word “muted” to describe the growth rate of 10-county metro Atlanta during the past year. In addition, the number of residential building permits issued was less than a third of their 30-year average.

The Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank reports that growth rates and expectations are moderating in home construction, mortgage refinancing and consumer spending. Overall, the broader economy of the Deep South continues to expand modestly. Continue reading

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Georgia’s latticework of roads to benefit from GDOT’s new freight designation that unties funding rules

With little fanfare, Georgia has entered a new era in which road construction is to be based less on geography and more on the need for congestion relief.

The step isn’t expected to be a panacea because Georgia doesn’t have any more money than before to spend on road improvements. However, the measure does provide the state with flexibility to target the resources it does have in areas where they’re in greatest demand, according to advocates including Gov. Nathan Deal.

The board of Georgia’s Department of Transportation voted last week to adopt a list of designated freight corridors. Now, these corridors can be upgraded without the legal constraint of balancing highway spending among congressional districts. The list was envisioned in House Bill 202, which Deal signed in April.
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Future of Xpress bus service so rosy that GRTA looking for better bus barn

GRTA is looking for a better place to store and maintain its fleet of Xpress buses.

This is a dramatic turn-about for a transit service that seemed imperiled by the failure of the 2012 transportation sales tax referendum. The future is rosier, now that Gov. Nathan Deal and the Legislature have inserted money for Xpress bus operations into the state’s continuation budget.

“We feel more confident than we had before,” said GRTA Executive Director Jannine Miller.
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Smallish transportation projects advance as Sierra Club outlines thoughts on regional mobility

Additional federal funding for a new bridge across I-75 in north Cobb County and a stormwater project along Ponce de Leon Avenue in DeKalb County were among six transportation projects approved Thursday in a proposed amendment to the region’s long-term transportation improvement program.

Simultaneously, the Atlanta Regional Commission has started the competition among local governments for the region’s estimated $29 million a year in federal funding for projects that reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. The filing deadline is Sept. 27 for this new round of federal funding.

Collectively, the projects represent the type of recalibration that is surfacing a year after metro Atlanta voters rejected the 2012 transportation sales tax and its $8.5 billion in planned mobility improvements. In a sense, this approach shares similarities with “framework for transportation progress” outlined by the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club.
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Managed lanes: Region’s future freeway system being devised along I-75 in Atlanta’s northwest corridor

Everyone who travels by vehicle through metro Atlanta has an interest in the managed toll lane system the state is to build in Cobb and Cherokee counties.

The system is likely to become the model of how drivers and the communities adjacent to the toll ways will interact with Georgia’s new method of expanding highway capacity in metro Atlanta. More than 150 miles of managed lanes are planned for metro Atlanta, according to the long-range transportation plan approved by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

A lot of little steps being taken just now are to lead to a new method of highway construction and travel in metro Atlanta. Agencies including the State Road and Tollway Authority, Georgia Department of Transportation, and their private sector partners are trying to devise a new paradigm.
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Atlanta’s $200 million for Falcons stadium now bottled up in committee

Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell applied the brakes Wednesday to efforts to hurry the city into providing $200 million in construction financing for the new Falcons stadium.

Mitchell’s action seems to bolster Atlanta’s bargaining position in the negotiations to have the stadium built on the south site – the location preferred by the city. The Falcons organization said July 30 it is focusing on the north site because the south site was not on track by Aug. 1 to be acquired from two churches.

Mitchell’s action makes it unlikely that Atlanta will be in a position to provide any of the $200 million anytime soon, and certainly not during the November timeframe that seemed possible just last month. It’s not clear when the Falcons need the money from Atlanta to continue with design and development.
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Georgia taxes: New report contends “Fair Tax” would hurt hurt – not help – families, businesses, economy

A report released today on Georgia’s tax structure fuels a debate over proposed tax reform that advocates are increasingly pushing for the 2014 session of the state Legislature.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute issued a tax analysis that contends the proposed “Fair Tax” reform would raise taxes on and hurt Georgia’s “families, businesses, communities and the economy.”

The report follows a promise made last month by an advocacy group that said it would help convince Georgia voters to approve a fair tax. The campaign would be similar to the one it waged in favor of 2012 charter school amendment, according to Americans for Prosperity.
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Cobb, Cherokee counties so densely developed that I-75 managed lanes project won’t impact environment

The I-75 corridor in Cobb and Cherokee counties is so densely developed that the 30-mile, two-lane toll road to be built in the corridor will have few negative environmental or social impacts.

This is the conclusion of the environmental impact study of the project completed by the Georgia Department of Transportation. While there’s no surprise in the result, the lack of impact on critters and land emphasizes the magnitude of the existing highway and development in Atlanta’s northwestern suburbs.

“This project is defined as the marginal addition of concrete to a 15-lane road,” said Brian Gist, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “When defined that way, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that it will have no effect.”
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Coke meets with human rights advocates who seek new practices for giving, diversity in Brazil

The Coca-Cola Co. has agreed to continue discussions with an Atlanta-based human rights group, led by veteran advocate Joe Beasley, to consider expanding Coke’s philanthropic and diversity practices in Brazil, advocates said Sunday.

Top Coke officials met with the advocates Friday and agreed to convene a tele-conference this week, advocates said Sunday. The Coke representatives who attended Friday’s meeting reportedly included Alexander Cummings, chief administrative officer, and Lisa Borders, chair of The Coca-Cola Foundation. Coke did not respond to a request for comment that was submitted Friday.

“We’re calling for Coke to have a reciprocal relationship with its most loyal consumers in Brazil,” Beasley said in a statement, referring to Brazil’s population of nearly 100 million Afro-descendants. Continue reading

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New DCA commissioner brings 15 years of experience in economic development, foreign trade

A new commissioner took charge Thursday of the state department that oversees a number of programs that influence local planning and economic development.

Gretchen Corbin replaces Mike Beatty as commissioner for the Department of Community Affairs. Corbin served most recently in the state’s Department of Economic Development – where she worked on teams that convinced Caterpillar and Baxter International to open manufacturing facilities in Georgia. Beatty will lead a non-profit organization engaged in workforce development.

DCA’s most recent work in Atlanta was to create an Opportunity Zone in sections of the Cleveland Avenue/Metropolitan Parkway area. The designation aims to spur businesses to hire by providing a tax credit for each job created, provided that at least two jobs are created. Continue reading

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Grady Hospital’s stroke center receives top rating, one of only 40 in nation and only safety net hospital

Ed Renford used to say he was glad he had his stroke while at work at Grady Memorial Hospital.

Renford, who was Grady’s CEO when he succumbed in 2000, figured that he was in the right place to receive the best possible treatment for Georgia’s third-highest cause of death. Renford recovered and returned to work until he chose to retire in 2003.

Now, Grady’s credentials have been upgraded in stroke care. Grady’s Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center has been designated an Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center by the Joint Commission, a national accrediting entity. The designation affirms that Grady has specific skills to treat the most complex stroke cases, according to a description by the Joint Commission.
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Atlanta’s sidewalks: Repair talks to continue Tuesday as new ones are built … wherever council chooses

Atlanta seems to have an endless capacity to talk about the state of sidewalk repair.

By most accounts, the state of repair is poor. The repair bill for more than 1,200 miles of sidewalks is pegged above $150 million. The city’s policy is to dun adjacent property owners for repairs to sidewalks and gutters, though this hasn’t proven to be effective.

The city’s challenge isn’t just maintaining sidewalks. Keeping up with their location is a problem. The Atlanta City Council may add to that burden every time it waives the city’s requirement for subdivision developers to install sidewalks in front of a project. Instead, the council routinely votes to have the sidewalks built elsewhere.
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BeltLine’s public safety upgrades first suggested in 2007 report from Tech’s Center for Quality Growth

Atlanta’s response to crime along the Atlanta BeltLine is unfolding almost exactly as recommended in a health impact assessment completed in 2007 by a research team guided by Georgia Tech professor Catherine Ross.

The city has formed a police team to patrol BeltLine’s greenspaces; worked with Trees Atlanta to trim vegetation; improved lighting; and installed markers to help users identify their location.

All the efforts address this one statement in Ross’ report: “Users might avoid the BeltLine if it is perceived as being ‘unsafe,’ …”
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Wheat export through port rises as Atlanta fosters role as logistics hub

Georgia’s port in Brunswick is benefiting from a rise in the export of Georgia-grown wheat to Mexico, and the first vessel of the season sailed from Brunswick Thursday.

Georgia farmers have bet heavily on wheat this year. The acreage committed to wheat production rose by 52 percent this year compared to 2012, from 230,000 acres to 350,000 acres, according to the Georgia Ports Authority, citing figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The idea that Atlanta has an interest in Georgia’s wheat exports through a state port is fueled in part by Mayor Kasim Reed. Reed has linked Atlanta’s stature as a global logistics hub with a seaport capable of handling the world’s largest cargo vessels. To that end, Reed is working diligently to obtain federal support for the deepening of the Savannah harbor.
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Buckhead participates in Atlanta’s Better Buildings Challenge, adds 41 buildings to efficiency program

Buckhead has joined Atlanta’s Better Buildings Challenge and added an additional 15 million square feet of commercial space to the city’s efficiency program, which now covers 65 million square feet.

The BBC was launched by the Obama administration in 2011 to promote energy and water efficiency in commercial and public buildings. The national goal is to reduce the energy intensity in commercial and public buildings by 20 percent by 2020.

Livable Buckhead was a founding partner of the city’s program and it formally began participating July 17. When it joined, Buckhead brought an amount of commercial space into Atlanta’s program that’s greater than the entire BBC program in Denver and Fort Worth, according to a statement from the city.
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GDOT’s approval of I-75 project advances concept of managed toll lanes in region, plan due in 2014

The state transportation board has chosen a team to build an $840 million network of managed toll lanes along I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties and open it in 2018.

Essentially, the project amounts to building a separate toll road alongside the existing highways. Traffic will flow south during the morning commute and north during the evening. Funding is scheduled from public and private sources.

This new project of managed toll lanes represents the wave of the future in Georgia’s highway program.
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Atlanta’s new cycle track is short, but a milestone in city’s mobility options

Atlanta is poised to complete in August a significant component of its overall plan to provide safer routes for bicyclists.

On its face, the new cycle track seems too short to be notable. It will stretch along 10th Street only the width Henry W. Grady High School, from Monroe Drive to Charles Allen Drive.

This short segment will provide a separate cycle track that will connect tip of the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail at Piedmont Park to Charles Allen Drive. Because a bike lane already exists on Charles Allen Drive, the cycle track will provide one of the last links of connectivity for cycling and walking along a route from Inman Park neighborhoods through Midtown and across the Downtown Connector to Tech.
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Portman loses $1 billion project that’s Miami Beach’s version of new Falcons stadium in downtown Atlanta

Atlanta-based Portman Holdings has lost its bid to lead the master development team for the planned $1 billion upgrade of what is to become the 52-acre Miami Beach Convention Center district.

The project went instead to a team led by Dan Tishman, the New York-based developer of projects including the World Trade Center and Disney’s Epcot Center. The Miami Beach Commission voted July 17 for Tishman’s proposal, submitted as Tishman South Beach ACE.

The Miami Beach project is that city’s version of Atlanta’s deal for a new Falcons stadium. Both projects are priced around $1 billion; both call for public financing through a hotel/motel tax; both contemplate renewing part of an aged urban core; and both promise to reconnect the new developments with surrounding communities. Continue reading

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Army corps installs new Savannah commander who will guide harbor deepening project, two ports

The Army colonel who will take over the Savannah district Friday, and the sensitive task of the harbor deepening project, brings a wealth of experience managing complex engineering scenarios, according to his military resume.

The executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, Curtis Foltz, said Thursday that he expects the new district commander – Col. Thomas Tickner – will continue the efforts of his predecessor, Col. Jeffrey Hall, who oversaw two important reports that propelled the deepening project.

The change in command is a routine event for a district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but it comes at a sensitive time. Federal funding for the planned harbor deepening project hangs in the balance, even as Georgia has committed $230 million toward the project.
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DeKalb County’s interim CEO: Works with Republicans, funded by Democrats, educated as a cleric

The Democrat chosen by Gov. Nathan Deal to serve as interim CEO of DeKalb County wrote a piece with a Republican colleague that appeared last week on Shirley Franklin’s website. It calls for the position of CEO – and DeKalb’s entire form of goverment – to be eliminated.

Although DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May will reach across the aisle, he has strong backing from the state’s leading Democrats. Former Gov. Roy Barnes’ law firm contributed to May’s 2012 reelection campaign, along with the family-owned company headed by former Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.  Michael Thurmond, the former state labor commissioner who now serves DeKalb as interim school superintendent, contributed.

May opposed the proposed 2012 transportation sales tax, saying it provided too few benefits to south DeKalb. About the same time, May said he was considering running against incumbent CEO Burrell Ellis because he disagreed with the direction Ellis was taking the county.
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Solar energy meeting follows PSC ruling that Ga. Power significantly expand its solar portfolio

Now that Georgia's utility regulator has authorized the additional development of solar power in the state, attention is turning to questions of how that power will be governed.

In less than a year, Georgia’s Public Service Commission has approved 735 megawatts through solar power arrays. Georgia Power voluntarily provided the first 210 megawatts that was approved last winter. The PSC voted last week to require the additional 525 megawatts as part of a broader Georgia Power docket.

The solar expansion happens to have come to a head just as the Georgia Solar Energy Association hosts a forum on Thursday in Atlanta. The featured speaker is coming from North Carolina, where there was a movement this year to roll back some of the state’s significant goals for producing renewable energy.
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Proposed four-lane road in middle Georgia promoted as traffic reliever for I-20 in Atlanta, helpful to port

Community leaders who advocate for a new highway that would improve access between LaGrange and Macon are pitching the proposed road as a way to ease traffic congestion in Atlanta and freight shipments to and from the state port in Savannah.

The proposed highway earned high marks from the consultant who drafted the recent long-term transportation plan for the Georgia Department of Transportation. For their part, GDOT officials have said the state has scant dollars for major new projects.

But the economic challenge hasn’t stopped two regional commissions – Three Rivers and Middle Georgia – from launching a campaign urging GDOT to conduct a corridor study. Among the reasons they cite for the road is the relief it could provide to I-20 in Atlanta.
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Proposal to have Atlanta Streetcar planning done by BeltLine hits snag over who’s to pay for the research

Atlanta’s effort to bring more of the planning for the expansion of the Atlanta Streetcar under the wing of the Atlanta BeltLine has hit a snag at Atlanta City Hall.

This particular situation is not expected to be significant. But it is the latest in a series that has led to the delay of at least a year in the planned opening of the Atlanta streetcar’s current route.

The current snag involves the source of up to $6 million to pay for planners and planning consultants to work on the streetcar expansion project. The city council’s Finance Committee raised a question that may delay legislation that had been slated for adoption by the council on Monday: What sources of taxpayer dollars will the Atlanta BeltLine use to pay for this long-range planning.
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Reed announces new film office one day after council committee calls for it to report at least seven times a year

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office announced Thursday that the mayor has created an Office of Entertainment to oversee the film industry, in accordance with an ordinance approved July 1 by the Atlanta City Council.

The announcement came one day after the council’s Finance Committee approved legislation that would require the new office to report a total of at least seven times a year to two of the council’s standing committees – finance and community development.

“While we support the film commission, we want to make sure that … it is done in a way where we are all on the same page,” said Councilperson Joyce Sheperd, the lead sponsor of the council’s proposal.
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Atlanta City Council wants monthly accountability reports on business incentives offered by Invest Atlanta

The Atlanta City Council is trying to get a handle on the incentives offered by Invest Atlanta during negotiations over business relocations.

The measure comes as the council wrestles with the increasing independence exercised by the leaders of the city’s development arm, which is chaired by the mayor. On Wednesday, the council’s Finance Committee approved a resolution that calls on the city’s CFO to submit monthly reports to the council on the incentives Invest Atlanta orders paid to businesses. The full council is to vote on the plan July 15.

Committee Chair Felicia Moore shelved a sterner measure she’d proposed that called for a non-binding council vote before Invest Atlanta could offer such incentives. Moore, who introduced both papers, said the stricter proposal was unlikely to win enough votes to pass. Continue reading

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Mayor Reed has $1.6 million in campaign cash, buys office furniture from an online liquidator

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed continues to attract campaign contributions at a rate that shows no signs of cooling as he prepares for election to a term that increasingly appears to be his second in office.

Reed has $1.6 million in cash on hand, according to a campaign disclosure report received July 6 by state campaign officials. Reed raised $320,621 and spent $161,141 during the second quarter of the year.

Reed’s financial prudence may be evident in the office furniture purchased for the campaign office. Reed’s campaign bought it from an online liquidator for $3,562. The next day, April 16, the campaign received a credit in the amount of $65.68, according to the report.
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Beautification of Peachtree Street bridges the first step in vision for adorning Downtown Connector

A long-awaited effort to create iconic bridges across Atlanta’s Downtown Connector is culminating this summer and a final design is due before the year’s end.

The first two projects involve Peachtree Street, Atlanta’s signature boulevard. The working draft for the enhancements is evocative of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a world famous bridge that’s located in the host city of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games that came right after the Atlanta games.

If all goes as planned, the Peachtree Street bridges will be completed in March 2015. About that time, planning is to begin for three other bridge projects. The $5.35 million in construction funding for the Peachtree Street bridges is coming from a combination of business, state, and philanthropic sources, according to a recent presentation to the board of the state Department of Transportation. Continue reading

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Tollway authority uses reserves to cover first budget without Ga. 400 tolls – $12.2 million drops away

As Chris Tomlinson made the rounds after his appointment in March as head of the State Road and Tollway Authority, he joked that the pending end of the unpopular tolls on Ga. 400 provided him with an easy start to the job.

The SRTA budget approved June 25 suggests the honeymoon is over and the hard task of governance in lean economic times has begun.

SRTA projects a shortfall in its operating budget of 36.7 percent, or $7.6 million, in an expense budget of $20.7 million. SRTA intends to cover the shortfall with $5.8 million in reserves and revenue from two other sources.
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As transportation sales taxes roll in elsewhere, metro Atlanta ponders how to provide traffic relief

Three regions in Georgia where voters in 2012 passed the 1 percent sales tax for transportation have raised a total of $54 million from January through May, according to a report last week from the state finance commission.

That may not seem like a lot of money in comparison to the billions of dollars the tax would have collected if metro Atlanta voters had approved it. But it’s a pot of construction money some may envy as municipal officials in metro Atlanta continue to raise the question of how to ease traffic congestion in this region, where voters rejected the sales tax referendum.

Transportation was the sole subject discussed during a June 24 luncheon that was part of the annual conference hosted in Savannah by the Georgia Municipal Association. More than 120 municipal officials attended the lunch, according to the July newsletter of the Metro Atlanta Mayors Association.
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Atlanta struggles in first steps to provide $200 million for Falcons stadium as community deal lingers

Atlanta got off to a rocky start Tuesday in its important first steps toward selling $200 million in bonds to help pay for construction of a new $1 billion Falcons stadium.

Atlanta can’t sell any stadium bonds until after the Atlanta City Council approves a deal with stadium communities. The first meeting to reach the deal ended Tuesday with little progress. Invest Atlanta officials, who convened the meeting, said they’ll rewrite their planned scope of work and delay the deal’s adoption past their target of Sept. 25 – and await further instructions from Mayor Kasim Reed, who chairs their board.

As a result, Atlanta’s posture in the stadium deal is that it can’t say with any confidence when it will give the Falcons any of the $200 million in construction financing. Nor can Atlanta say how it will resolve the situation in which a church is blocking the stadium site preferred by the Falcons. Continue reading

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Northside Drive: $2 billion in planned development may spur road’s renewal

Two billion dollars in investments near Northside Drive in downtown Atlanta ought to go a long way toward promoting the rejuvenation of a gritty, five-mile stretch of the road located south of I-75.

A new study from Georgia Tech posits that this investment may catalyze landowners and civic leaders to evolve Northside Drive from a patchwork of low-density uses into a grand transit boulevard – one that links I-75 and I-20 as it passes Atlantic Station, Georgia Tech, new Falcons stadium, the Atlanta University Center and West End – that induces new east-west connectivity.

This $2 billion investment is the low end of the total sum envisioned for the new Falcons stadium and the Georgia MultiModal Passenger Terminal, the still-official and still-tongue-tying name of the transit hub and mixed-use development planned for downtown Atlanta.
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GSU’s public health program gains academic heft as Atlanta raises its profile as a center for global health

Georgia State University has received the green light to transition its Institute of Public Health to the GSU School of Public Health, which will strengthen the program as an independent college within the university.

The authority to expand the program arrives at a time metro Atlanta’s civic leaders are pressing for the region to become a leading center for global health. Georgia State’s existing public health program specializes in urban health, chronic diseases and violence prevention.

Brown University, the Ivy League school in Rhode Island, is the only other institution authorized in the June 8 review cycle to expand its public health program to a school of public health. The approval was granted by the accrediting agency, Council on Education for Public Health.
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Most metro counties among most healthy in Georgia, says ARC report

Forsyth County ranks as the most healthy county in Georgia, according to a new report by the ARC that shows five other counties in metro Atlanta are among the state’s top 10 counties in terms of health outcomes.

Clayton County is the only metro county ranked in the unhealthy category based on health factors, according to the ARC report. Barrow and Spalding counties are in the middle ranges, and the remaining counties are all in the healthy range.

The ARC reached these and other conclusions by analyzing data from the recently released County Health Rankings report, produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and the Georgia Department of Public Health.
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GEMA, FODAC sign deal for providing wheelchairs, etc during disasters

Georgia now has a formal arrangement with FODAC to provide medical devices such as wheelchairs and hospital beds to those that need them during catastrophic disasters.

The plan means that Georgians who need durable home medical equipment will be able to look to a single entity to provide the gear they need. The plan also provides for training programs to instruct those who will be working in emergency shelters on how to meet the needs of those who rely on home medical equipment.

The agreement between Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security and FODAC provides for FODAC to store home medical equipment and distribute it through a protocol established by the state and its emergency response partners.
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It may not be broken, new report says of the way needy, rural Georgians are transported to critical destinations

Georgia has a new idea about how to contain the state’s burgeoning cost of transporting the poor, elderly and disabled in rural counties: Improve the existing system.

Initially, state officials were leaning toward a recommendation that Georgia consolidate the management and delivery of rural transport services. The new proposal suggests better management of the existing system, while continuing to examine the concept of bundled services.

The new plan will be available for public review shortly on the GRTA website. After the public comment phase, the final plan that includes public comment is slated to be adopted Aug. 14 by the Governor’s Development Council, which is the same board that oversees GRTA.
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Atlanta BeltLine: City to condemn property to develop park, trail

Atlanta is preparing to condemn private property to further the development of the Atlanta BeltLine.

Although just a few acres are involved, this marks the first time Atlanta has exercised its power of eminent domain to develop a park or trail related to the BeltLine.

Condemned land will be used to expand Enota Place Park, in southwest Atlanta, which was one of the original 13 jewels in the “emerald necklace” vision of the BeltLine that was used to promote the concept in its formative days. The Southwest BeltLine Connector Trail will be built atop some condemned properties.
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Atlanta’s airport to install touch screen directories to help passengers find their way around concourses

Airline passengers should find it easier to navigate their way around Atlanta’s airport once a new wayfinding system is installed in time for this winter’s busy travel season.

The $2.1 million project calls for interactive touch-screen signs to replace the existing static signs throughout the airport. The work is to be paid for by the city’s aviation fund and overseen by the consortium of airlines that manage the common areas of the airport.

The decision to replace the static signs stemmed partly from the success of the interactive signs in the Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. International Terminal, airport General Manager Louis Miller told the Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee in March.
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Planning for water in metro Atlanta and its effect on rivers that nurture oysters in Apalachicola

Editor’s Note: This is the third of three stories this week that look at water issues that affect metro Atlanta. Click to read the first story and the second story.

The debate over how to meet the water needs of metro Atlanta comes down to two different principles – whether the region should use less water, or provide greater supply through additional reservoirs.

Even that reduction doesn’t go far enough. For one, there’s not a consensus on how much water the region will need in the future. In addition, there’s little agreement on the data and science used in the debate.

If this sounds familiar, it is – transportation and the proposed 1 percent sales tax that was on the ballot in 2012 to pay for roads and transit. One difference with the water debate is that the public probably won’t be asked to decide for or against whatever solution is reached by water planners over the next two years. Continue reading

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Prayers for rain, Senate takes on Supreme Court ruling – all part of Georgia’s water policy issues

Editor’s Note: This is the second of three stories this week that will look at water issues that affect metro Atlanta.

Metro Atlanta probably celebrated too swiftly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year the region may continue to draw drinking water from Lake Lanier.

Though the ruling was rightly portrayed, by Georgians, as a major victory, the battle is far from over. The U.S. Senate toyed with the court’s ruling last month before it adopted omnibus water legislation. Water proposals abound in Georgia – where lakes are full six years after a governor led prayers for rain.

All of this results in water supply remaining one of the region’s major policy questions. Not to be overlooked are neighboring communities, and creatures, who rely on the same sources of water.
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Attention to Apalachicola fishing industry touches a nerve among Atlanta water resource leaders

Editor’s Note: This is the first of three stories this week that will look at water issues affecting metro Atlanta.

Maybe it was just the comments about metro Atlanta’s water usage by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. that triggered the outcry.

Or it could have been a story in The New York Times, which ran a few days earlier, on the potential demise of the seafood industry in Apalachicola Bay. One factor cited was a shortage of fresh water entering the bay from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee Flint river system.

Taken separately or collectively, the comments by Kennedy and the Times piece alarmed some business and government leaders involved in the management of metro Atlanta’s water resources. The ruckus reminds that despite full lakes, the region and Georgia are in a pivotal moment concerning long-term water issues.
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New reports show metro Atlanta’s economy improving, but still sluggish

A handful of recent economic-types of reports portray metro Atlanta and Georgia as continuing a slow recovery from the depth of the recession.

The news offers little hope for the type of immediate turn-around that’s needed by folks who post blogs saying they’ve been out of work for more than six months and aren’t getting call-backs to their job inquiries.  But most signs do point toward a rising tide that eventually will reach most boats.

A new report from the Metro Atlanta Chamber showed job postings in high tech and a few other fields grew faster in this region than nationally. The Federal Reserve’s report for the first quarter indicates a slow recovery in Georgia that’s broad-based. A Georgia State report in May predicts continuing headwinds from the sluggish global economy, with 2014 expected to be a better year for the economy.
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Interchange to memorialize Atlanta police officer killed by drunken driver

An Atlanta police officer who was struck and killed by a drunken driver at the Brookwood Interchange has been memorialized with the naming of the interchange in her honor.

Senior Patrol Officer Gail Denise Thomas was honored with a sign to be placed at the interchange of the Downtown Connector and exit 251. The exact location and date of installation is still being determined, the state Transportation Department said Friday. The ceremony was Thursday at Atlanta’s Public Safety Headquarters.

Thomas, 46, died Jan. 24, 2012 while working a car crash scene shortly after 11 p.m. near the intersection that leads from southbound I-75 to northbound I-85. The driver who struck Thomas pleaded guilty in February and was sentenced to 16 years in prison on two counts – vehicular homicide and failure to obey the directions of a police officer.
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GDOT keeps $80 million in federal highway funds by minding calendar

Attention to the calendar will enable Georgia to shift to the federal government about $80 million of the cost of the managed lane project along I-75 south.

Georgia’s Department of Transportation had planned to borrow the $80 million. But the state and ARC were able to able to shift the funding source by tweaking the region’s long and short transportation plans before the state’s fiscal year ends June 30.

In the scheme of things, $80 million is a small sum. But the endeavor does indicate how far the state will go to stretch its transportation budget. The GRTA board on Wednesday provided the last approval that’s needed.
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Atlanta’s future public art gallery takes step forward, at a $770,000 price to alter former AJC building

Atlanta is on track to spend up to $770,769 to remodel space for an art gallery in the city’s office building that once housed The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The planned exhibit space will encompass 3,400 square feet and provide two galleries accessible through one entry, according to Camille Russell Love, who heads the city’s cultural affairs programs and who presented the plan Tuesday to the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development Committee. The council is expected to approve the spending at its June 17 meeting.

The proposal to spend money for a city gallery elicited a protest from Ron Shakir, an Atlanta resident who’s a regular opponent of spending proposals when they’re discussed at committee meetings. Councilperson Cleta Winslow pushed back, contending that support for public arts is a wise investment.
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Atlanta opens new fire, police station at time concerns for public safety appear low, off campaign agenda

Atlanta has opened its newest facility in the city’s never-ending quest to improve public safety and promote neighborhood cohesion.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed presided over the ribbon cutting ceremony on June 6, the 69th anniversary of D-Day. Reed sounded little like a candidate for reelection, and a lot like a community leader, as he summed up a wide array of interests that are bound up in the new Fire Station No. 28.

“A building like this should represent the best version of ourselves,” Reed concluded. “God bless you. It’s only going to get better in the city of Atlanta.”
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First MARTA budget proposed by “new” GM provides for passengers, employees, capital investments

The first annual budget to be presented by MARTA’s (somewhat) new GM/CEO provides something for both employees and passengers. The board is expected to approve the proposed budget Monday.

Keith Parker started at MARTA in December and made it clear during several meet-and-greet events that he intends to focus on both riders and employees. His goal is to improve the perception and reality of metro Atlanta’s largest transit system.

For passengers, MARTA’s budget proposal provides for a 12-month deferral of a planned fare increase, heightens sense-of-safety measures, and provides for the reopening of bathrooms in stations. For employees, there’s to be a no-cost package including a relaxed dress code and telecommute program, plus pay incentives. For system well-being, there’s $155.5 million in capital investments. Continue reading

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Two historic buildings in Atlanta show signs they’ll resist wrecking ball

Sometimes in Atlanta, the news about historic preservation is measured in terms of buildings that weren’t demolished. This is one of those times.

The Atlanta City Council has approved a deal that will reduce the economic pressures to further develop the Georgian Terrace. The council authorized the owner to sever the development rights of the property and sell them at some point in the future to the owner of another parcel in Midtown.

In the heart of Atlanta’s downtown business district, a “For Sale” sign is hanging on the second floor office condo at the Healey Building. The proposed sale, priced at $840,000, indicates there are no dramatic changes planned for the building that was renovated in 2007.
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Sun Trust, Operation HOPE to devise financial literacy program for working poor, may teach entrepreneurship

An interesting meeting is set for June 10, one that will bring elite bankers together with street-wise advocates of the working poor in order to help a low-wealth community in Atlanta.

The goal is to devise a program that will teach financial literacy to those who don’t live in a world where financial advisors reach out to them. There’s a chance that lessons in entrepreneurship may be in the curriculum that is to begin this autumn.

Sun Trust Banks and Operation HOPE are partnering to offer the program. It’s a way for Sun Trust to return to its roots of community building, and Operation HOPE already is a good partner, Sun Trust executive Dan Mahurin said Wednesday.
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Proposal: Give Atlanta mayor direct control of city’s arts programs

Atlanta's Office of Cultural Affairs would be moved into the mayor's office under a proposal now pending before the Atlanta City Council.

The office currently is located in the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. The office is headed by Camille Russell Love, who reports to parks Commissioner George Dusenbury. Dusenbury reports to Atlanta COO Duriya Faroqui, who reports to the mayor.

Reed is an outspoken advocate of public arts programs and has provided city funding of the arts despite the recession. The Office of Cultural Affairs oversees Atlanta’s most prominent arts programs, including the 36th Annual Atlanta Jazz Festival – for which Reed hosted a preview party at Loews Hotel.
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Kennesaw State devises degree program to provide training in culinary sustainability industry

Kennesaw State University is starting a new degree program in culinary sustainability that will teach best management practices for the food service industry.

The new program, reinforced by two sustainability awards in May from the National Restaurant Association, is part of KSU’s effort to establish its place in leadership training for nation’s $632 billion marketplace of restaurants.

“We’re all fighting for the same consumers,” said Christian Hardigree, who devised the curriculum. “The question is: How can we do things that are more efficient, more effective, and that improve the bottom line?”
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As Cheshire Bridge debate roils, a project advances for improving West End near new Falcons stadium

The proposal to close strip clubs and other “adult-oriented businesses” along Cheshire Bridge Road isn’t the only urban renewal issue facing the Atlanta City Council Monday.

Also on the agenda is a small item that has become part of a much bigger picture – the potential for community renewal in neighborhoods near the future Falcons stadium.

The small item is a proposal to spend $460,617 to continue making it more pleasant to walk between the Atlanta University Center and West End. Incidentally, West End is the first commercial district south of the new stadium and is located closer to the stadium than Atlantic Station.
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Atlanta Streetcar attracts firms interested in contract to start service April 30, 2014; bids due June 28

Representatives of six transit operating companies that want to run the Atlanta Streetcar took a walking tour of the route Thursday.

The companies attended a pre-proposal conference conducted by MARTA to introduce the streetcar to the market of companies that have expressed an interest in operating and maintaining the service through March 2018. Bids are due June 28.

MARTA intends for the contract operator of the streetcar to start work around Sept. 15 and to begin providing passenger service on or about Jan. 12, 2014, according to a schedule included in the request for proposals. Continue reading

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Cousins Properties starts a high rise in Austin in push to boost its number of holdings beyond metro Atlanta

Cousins Properties, Inc. has broken ground on a 29-story office tower in downtown Austin.

Cousins is a bellwether Atlanta real estate firm that has said it intends to reduce the proportion of Atlanta properties in its portfolio. Evidently, Texas is a favorite locale, as Cousins purchased an office tower in Austin this year with a portion of the $165 million it raised in an April 12 stock sale.

Two tenants have committed to the new building – a 371,000-square-foot, class A structure designed by the same firm based in Durham, N.C. that is designing a second tower for Cox Enterprises. The cost of the new building was not released. Continue reading

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Atlanta’s planned homeless program raises issues of profits for providers, moving homeless west of downtown

Who will profit from Atlanta’s new programs to reduce homelessness? Will the homeless be moved to dwellings in blighted neighborhoods west of downtown Atlanta? What will happen to the homeless shelter at the corner of Peachtree and Pine streets?

These central questions arose in a discussion Tuesday about Atlanta’s proposal to create a non-profit organization to take over the city’s federal and state funding that’s intended to reduce homelessness.

No solid answers were provided before the proposal to create the non-profit was approved unanimously by the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development Committee and sent to the council for a vote June 3. The mayor retains considerable influence over the planned non-profit. Continue reading

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Atlanta’s new answer to reducing homelessness: Create a non-profit organization under mayor’s control

Atlanta’s latest approach to reduce homelessness in the city calls for the creation of a non-profit organization under the control of the mayor.

The proposal arises from the city’s work conducted with a portion of the $3.3 million innovation grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The new non-profit is to raise money from public and private sources, hire an executive director, invite relevant partners to join the program, and comply with all federal laws.

The legislation is to be discussed Tuesday at Atlanta City Hall. Topics likely to be addressed include how the non-profit will relate to existing regional programs for the homeless including the Gateway Center, Metro Atlanta Tri-Jurisdictional Collaborative on Homelessness, United Way Regional Commission on Homelessness – not to mention the homeless shelter at the corner of Peachtree and Pine streets.
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Sea turtle nesting season off to slow start in Georgia, neighboring states

The sea turtle nesting season is off to a slow start this year along Georgia’s coast and other southern beaches.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources reports that the first loggerhead nest to be found in Georgia this year was located May 13 on Wassaw Island, off the coast of Savannah. May 5 is the average arrival of the first female to lay eggs. Last year the first nest was discovered April 25 on Cumberland Island.

North Carolina beaches evidently are a little more inviting this summer. The first loggerhead nest was spotted May 12 on Oak Island, near Wilmington, according to seaturtle.org.
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Atlanta City Council: At times, it’s an elegant pageant of civic life

Sometimes the political theater at Atlanta City Hall is pure spectacle. Thursday was one of those days.

A union leader won applause for her speech, including from councilmembers Michael Julian Bond and C.T. Martin. Bond, who chaired the meeting, quickly regained order and seemed to smile as he said such outbursts were not in order.

The wife of a policeman also was applauded after her brief comments about low pay for cops and helping to buy a billboard to highlight the police pay issue. She wrote a blog in December titled, “City council is a joke,” in which she discussed the size and dialect of a councilmember.
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Uncle Sam joins fight against blight in Falcons stadium neighborhoods

Beleaguered neighborhoods near the future Atlanta Falcons stadium have received a tremendous promise of help from the federal government.

The same program that was recently expanded to these neighborhoods is credited in cities across the country with helping create amenities including a river walk, a new waterfront greenway, fast-track studies for slow-moving projects, and job-training programs for construction trades.

These are just a few examples of the benefits that have developed since 2011 in areas that are in the federal Urban Waters Federal Partnership. Atlanta’s Proctor Creek basin, which includes the stadium neighborhoods, was added May 17 to the water partnership.
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Metro Atlanta’s reputation at EPA: Bold plans revive former brownfields

Bob Perciasepe, the acting administrator of the EPA, took about a nanosecond to recall the old Atlantic Steel mill near downtown Atlanta.

Perciasepe picked the area that now is Atlantic Station as his example of metro Atlanta’s national reputation for turning brownfields into vibrant communities: A place known to execute plans that are big, bold and game-changing.

Perciasepe’s choice is a reminder that efforts to clean up hazardous materials in metro Atlanta communities go beyond the Atlanta BeltLine. There’s a former smoldering landfill in Acworth that’s now Lakeside Marketplace; the Aerotropolis Atlanta development at the former Hapeville Ford Assembly Plant; and, just last week, the Proctor Creek watershed.
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Obama at Morehouse College: Visit highlights groundbreaking report on HBCUs, challenges facing grads

Almost overlooked in the discussion over President Obama’s commencement address Sunday at Morehouse College is a new report that breaks ground in the discussion of historically black colleges and universities.

The study, “The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” reveals a disconnect between criticism and reality in terms of of graduation rates, as well as equity issues for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Obama’s introductory joke underscored the challenges facing today’s graduates: “I know some of you are graduating summa cum laude. I know some of you are graduating magna cum laude. I know some of you are just graduating thank the Lordy.” Continue reading

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A Northern Arc by another name: Public process begins for widening of Ga. 20 from Canton to Cumming

A crowd of 148 attended an open house Thursday night to toss their 2 cents into the conversation over the proposed widening of Ga. 20, from Canton to Cumming.

Call it what you will – Ga. 20, Northern Arc, Outer Perimeter, Outer Loop – the state intends to improve east-west access across Atlanta’s far northern suburbs. The open house was a step in that process and another open house is slated for Tuesday in Ball Ground.

Ga. 20 runs somewhat parallel to the Northern Arc’s proposed route and already has been expanded. Additional construction would enable to handle more vehicles. The state’s official position is that options range from doing nothing to doing something big.

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Atlanta to combat food deserts with portion of $30 million federal grant

Atlanta’s food deserts are one of the problems that Atlanta’s development officials intend to address with a portion of a $30 million federal grant the city has received.

An incredible swath of Atlanta, generally located south of Buckhead, meets the definition a food desert, according to a mapping tool of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The definition boils down to access to food – distance from food stores and access to transportation.

Atlanta’s food desert program is to be one of the first such efforts in the country to be assisted through the New Markets Tax Credit program, which was started in 1994 by the Treasury Department to help fight blight and create jobs. Continue reading

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Timber industry launches message of sustainability as market remains soft

Georgia’s timber industry launched a campaign Tuesday to raise awareness of its efforts to promote sustainable practices.

The campaign is led by the Georgia Forestry Association and includes a speakers bureau that is to take the message to Rotary Clubs, chambers of commerce and other such groups around the state.

The effort is unfolding as the state’s struggling timber industry has been promoted over the past nine months by parties ranging from Gov. Nathan Deal to the University of Georgia to Rolling Stones keyboardist and Georgia tree farmer Chuck Leavell. Continue reading

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Complete Streets policy has full backing of GDOT commissioner

State transportation Commissioner Keith Golden says his department is committed to the Complete Streets policy adopted by the board in September.

“It doesn’t mean that we stop all projects and adapt them to fit that mode,” Golden said. “It does mean that we start all projects with that concept in place.”

GDOT’s commitment was questioned earlier this year, until bike lanes were added to plans for a replacement bridge across Ga. 400. Less attention was paid to GDOT’s inclusion of bike lanes and a tunnel for pedestrians at a replacement bridge over Lake Lanier.
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PATH Foundation named in Ga. 400 trail, latest of its $55 million projects

After building more than 180 miles of trails in Georgia, the PATH Foundation is now memorialized in the name of a future trail in Atlanta – PATH400 is the name of the trail that’s to run alongside and beneath Ga. 400.

When the trail’s complete, it will join a trail network valued at $55.5 million that PATH has completed and transferred to local governments, according to PATH’s most recent Form 990, the IRS tax return filed by non-profit organizations.

Despite the size of this contribution to public greenways, or perhaps because of it, the PATH Foundation has become such a fixture in metro Atlanta since it was formed in 1991 that it’s possible to forget that it is still a relatively small organization in the big world of non-profits.
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Cheshire Bridge Road to remain an “adult” district, if Atlanta City Council upholds ruling by its zoning board

A proposal to shut down the adult shops and clubs by 2018 along Cheshire Bridge Road in Atlanta was rejected Thursday by Atlanta’s Zoning Review Board.

The vote is not binding and doesn’t end the debate. The battle continues to the Atlanta City Council, where the area’s representative, Alex Wan, had introduced the measure with strong support from an array of neighborhood groups.

The opposition that gathered at the ZRB meeting included a mix of gays, strippers and Atlanta’s real estate interests – including Scott Selig, whose family has developed in Atlanta since 1918. Their protests centered on issues including free expression and property rights.
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New tollway director promises open communications from powerful agency in transportation network

GRTA’s board offered a warm welcome Wednesday to Chris Tomlinson, the newest leader of metro Atlanta’s transportation system.

Tomlinson, executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority, responded with a message that emphasized themes of communication and transparency.

The message could go a long way for a state entity that wields tremendous power over Georgia’s transportation system, but operates largely out of the public spotlight. SRTA is chaired by the governor and has the power to plan, develop and build roads funded by federal and state sources – in addition to tolls. Continue reading

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Sounds of meteor hitting Russia, North Korea’s nuclear test, posted on YouTube by Georgia Tech

When a meteor slammed into Russia in February, the infrasound signals were captured by a listening station in Lilburn and analyzed by a Georgia Tech researcher.

The signals from the meteor were compared to seismic signals associated with North Korea’s nuclear test in February, and an earthquake in Nevada.

If nothing else, the results speak to the sort of “gee whiz” research underway in metro Atlanta, much of it based out of Georgia Tech. The sounds of the meteor and two other events are now available on YouTube. Continue reading

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Economic forecasts in Atlanta Mayor Reed’s budget not for faint of heart

Those who are desperately straining to see improvements in Atlanta’s local economy may want to skip Mayor Kasim Reed’s budget proposal, or at least limit their view to a few bright spots.

Reed’s budget is based on some grim predictions: Property tax revenues will decline; sales tax revenues will stagnate; lease payments for city-owned properties will decline, according to revenue overviews scattered throughout the budget book.

Bright spots include revenue from business licenses, which is forecast to rise a bit as business income increases. The hotel/motel tax is expected to rise modestly as the business and tourism trade holds on. In addition, Atlanta expects to hire rather than lay off employees, with a third of the new positions to be located in the executive offices that report directly to the mayor.
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Bullets flew over traffic jam in 1997, but scant notice paid as relief arrives

Sixteen years ago, the traffic on Johnson Ferry Road between Cobb and Fulton counties was so bad that someone fired two slugs into the control box of a traffic signal, evidently to make a green light last longer.

Last week, Sen. Johnny Isakson cut a ribbon to open the newly improved Johnson Ferry Road. Hardly anyone paid heed.

It’s anyone’s guess as to why the improved road has garnered such little comment. But it does suggest some degree of weariness when a $26 million project that was nearly 30 years is the making doesn’t trigger a buzz. Continue reading

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Atlanta to have 2,000 police officers, Mayor Reed’s budget proposal maintains funding for salaries

Atlanta is on pace to have 2,000 sworn police officers this year.

Atlanta now has 1,983 officers, counting 23 who were added after a police academy graduation Tuesday, according to police Chief George Turner. The recruits needed to reach the target are in the police academy or waiting to attend, Turner said. The money to pay the officers is in the budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1, which Mayor Kasim Reed released Wednesday.

While the number of officers is important, the crime rate is the number that matters to those in the city. The rate of serious crimes is 2 percent higher than at this time last year, but is 18 percent lower than in 2009, the last year reported on the police department’s website. Continue reading

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Federal cutbacks hurt, but Georgia’s safety net can respond creatively

Georgia’s safety net can continue to address incredible needs, provided that its leaders respond creatively to reductions in government funding and evolution of the philanthropic community.

That message emerged from a two-hour panel discussion Wednesday at the Carter Center that was hosted by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute during its Spring Policy Forum.

“We have to work smarter and leverage our resources; leverage is an easy word, but it’s hard to do,” said Bill Bolling, executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Continue reading

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Atlanta City Council committee to Mayor Reed: Get sidewalk vendors back to work as soon as possible

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration has two weeks to come up with some solid proposals to get sidewalk vendors back to work.

The apparently frustrated members of the Atlanta City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted unanimously Tuesday for a motion calling on Reed’s staff to deliver by May 14 a solid recommendation of a vending ordinance.

“We are dealing with the actual human element of people losing their livelihood because of the inaction of the city,” committee Chair Michael Julian Bond said. “I don’t believe it is difficult to resolve this issue.” Continue reading

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Atlanta’s water needs cited in plan to pump water from aquifers into Flint River during times of drought

Georgia’s efforts to quench metro Atlanta’s thirst include a $1 billion proposal to pump water from one aquifer to another and then release it into the Flint River in times of drought.

On Tuesday, the board of Department of Natural Resources is to consider a request for permission to drill an experimental well near Albany to see if the plan is feasible. A committee of the board approved the proposal Monday.

Advocates contend the practice would preserve the amount of water retained in Lake Lanier, while increasing the flow in the Flint River and the river it helps form – the Apalachicola River. Critics disagree, including the Flint Riverkeeper and Georgia Rivers.
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With stadium deal approved, GWCC seeks new lobbyist for state, local affairs – especially Atlanta City Hall

Now that Atlanta has approved public funding for the Falcons stadium, the Georgia World Congress Center is hiring a new lobbyist at a salary that could exceed $100,000 a year.

The GWCC was sidelined during the final financial negotiations for public funding for the $1 billion stadium. Gov. Nathan Deal decided against asking the Legislature to get involved in the tax issue and asked Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to broker a deal with the Falcons.

Frank Poe, the GWCC’s executive director, told ESPN.com on the day the preliminary deal was announced, March 7, that he was not aware of the financial agreement until, “the last 24 hours.” Continue reading

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Drought’s grip easing, but 2,000 azaleas died at one home in Rome because of dry conditions

Drought conditions have eased in Georgia and Lake Lanier is just 0.4 foot short of full pool, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center and a monitor at the lake.

The improvements are likely a function of rainfall amounts that, at least in the Atlanta area, have exceeded the 30-year-average during the first three months of the year. Average rainfall totals are nearly 13.7 inches and this year’s total is nearly 17 inches, excluding April, according to the National Weather Service.

But don’t tell that to a couple in Rome, who blame the lingering drought for the loss of some 2,000 azaleas on their property. The couple once had about 5,000 azaleas, according to a report on the drought center’s website.
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Housing shows signs of recovery, but two reports shade it differently

The combined insight of two new reports sheds an interesting perspective on the housing market in metro Atlanta. The question remains: Who’s buying?

The most recent Beige Book from the Federal Reserve described home sales as “strong” in the Atlanta district, which covers portions of the Deep South.

In a report specific to metro Atlanta, Bloomberg news reported Thursday that the Blackstone Group has purchased 1,400 homes in the Atlanta area. The transaction is described as the largest bulk sale in the homes-to-lease industry – a business built on folks who don’t want to buy a home or can’t.
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Georgian Terrace sets stage to sell its development rights

The owners of the Georgian Terrace are taking steps to sell the development rights associated with the building to another property in Midtown.

Atlanta’s Urban Design Commission is slated to consider the proposal this afternoon and provide comments. The Atlanta City Council is expected to consider, in late May or early June, the special use permit that’s related to the transfer.

No buyer is waiting to purchase the proposed transfer of development rights from the Georgian Terrace, Sharon Gay, a lawyer handling the transaction, said Wednesday. The action simply positions the building to have an additional value that can be realized at some point in the future.
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GRTA’s reports offer insights into metro Atlanta’s carbon footprint

A new report from GRTA shows fuel consumption by its bus fleet has dropped by just over 18 percent since July, largely because the system is following basic conservation tips.

This reduction is noteworthy as the Atlanta region enters ozone season. Less fuel consumed translates to less of the tailpipe exhaust that is a major contributor to dirty air.

The fuel report is just one of GRTA’s performance metrics that offers some interesting insights into the region’s carbon footprint, as it relates to commuting and the 12-county Xpress bus service.
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American Rivers lists Flint River among country’s most endangered

The Flint River ranks second on the list of the country’s most-endangered rivers, according to the latest ranking by American Rivers, a 40-year-old organization that works to protect waterways.

The Flint made the list for the same reason cited when it was included on the “Dirty Dozen” list compiled last year by the Georgia Water Coalition – poor water management.

The two reports essentially oppose the state’s plans for the Flint River, which have the stated aim of providing water at affordable prices. The river groups contend the plans will further reduce water flow in the Flint, harming living creatures and threatening the recreation-based economy of regions that rely on the river and its tributaries.
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Atlanta’s moment of silence for Boston after the attack

Atlantans are paying quiet respects to Boston following the explosions during the Boston Marathon.

Artist Walter Cumming was watching the event live on an internet feed, drawing during the race, and posted drawings from his sketchbook scant hours after the blasts. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed issued a statement. MARTA and other agencies advised that security has been increased, including what appear to be additional patrol cars parked near the state Capitol.

On Thursday, Atlanta Councilmember H. Lamar Willis intends to honor Boston’s victims with a moment of silence before his weekly run/walk, which he does with city employees.
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As feds probe possible fraud in Atlanta’s workforce agency, Invest Atlanta steps into void

Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, plans to hire a consultant next month to sharpen Atlanta’s workforce development strategy.

The project is moving forward as the federal Department of Labor weighs evidence of possible fraud in the federally funded Atlanta Workforce Development Agency. The agency’s budget approaches $10 million a year.

Invest Atlanta distributed a request for proposals regarding the workforce strategy on March 4, according to a schedule contained in the RFP. That was a month after the Feb. 4 release of a city audit that revealed the evidence of possible fraud and recommended Atlanta’s workforce agency be discontinued.
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Falcons stadium: An uphill fight to right a community beset by wrongs

“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

That sentence, popularized by President Reagan, could well sum up the first challenge facing the effort to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods around the future Falcons stadium.

From the 2006 shooting death of Kathryn Johnston by Atlanta police during a botched drug raid, to the cheating scandal that touched Bethune Elementary School, to recurrent flooding problems – the neighborhoods of English Avenue and Vine City have seen plenty of efforts to help them either go no where or go awry.

Neighborhood residents have their own share of problems, as well.
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Cousins Properties acquisitions in Texas, stock buy-back at $25 a share, show how one company fights back

Cousins Properties, Inc. raised $165.1 million in a stock sale April 12 that shows how one Atlanta-based real estate firm is waging its fight back from the recession.

Cousins intends to use the money from the stock sale to further its expansion into urban markets in Texas. Cousins also plans to redeem $74.8 million of preferred stock, according to Cousins filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Cousins, a real estate investment trust, was formed in Atlanta in 1958 and more than two-thirds of its office holdings remain in Atlanta – 5.3 million square feet of the 7.6 million square feet of office space cited in its 2012 annual SEC filing. The remainder of the office space is located in Charlotte, Dallas, and Birmingham.
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Juanita Jones Abernathy, John S. Wilson to be honored with formal reception by Atlanta City Council

The Atlanta City Council will honor a civil rights leader of the past and an academician for the future at an April 15 reception at Atlanta City Hall.

Juanita Jones Abernathy marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and has continued her work in the human rights and corporate arenas. John S. Wilson is the 11th president of Morehouse College, King’s alma mater, taking the helm in a transitional era for the country’s institutions of higher learning.

The reception is slated from noon to 1 p.m., in advance of a council meeting at which the council is expected to catch its breath after its March 18 approval of public financing for the Falcons Stadium.
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Metro Atlanta roads: How to make do with a transportation system that’s (mostly) already on the ground

State and regional transportation planners are taking the steps they think are within reach in order to relieve traffic congestion in metro Atlanta. GRTA’s board took its first step Wednesday.

The solution won’t be a magic bullet, no more so than if voters in 2012 had approved the construction program envisioned for the proposed 1 percent transportation sales tax. Transit was not part of Wednesday’s conversation.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s touch is evident in the new approach. Deal said after the sales tax referendum that the state would focus on affordable transportation solutions, or, in the words of the resolution approved by GRTA’s board: Georgia will, “improve the movement of people and goods across and within the state [in order to] expand Georgia’s role as a major logistic hub for global commerce.”
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MARTA’s fare hike planned in 2015, lack of state funding, noted by Fitch, one of big three credit rating agencies

MARTA’s fare hike planned for 2015 – possibly to $2.75 per trip – and the possibility of zone pricing doesn’t offset the lack of state funding for the system, a bond rating house has determined.

Fitch Ratings made its comments on MARTA’s fiscal situation in an advisory on MARTA’s planned sale this week of $26.3 million in sales tax revenue bonds.

MARTA’s entire revenue structure results in “thin financial margins,” the report states. Fitch took a look at MARTA’s financial projections and issued the following comment:
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Public transit outlook remains case of: “Better the devil you know”

The landscape of public transit has become clearer in metro Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia, at least for the next year – not much will change.

The state Senate essentially gave MARTA’s new GM, Keith Parker, a year to get settled into the job and devise plans to curb costs and raise revenues. The Senate stalled expansive legislation, which the House had approved, to privatize segments of MARTA and otherwise retool its board and operations.

Gov. Nathan Deal prevailed in his effort for the state to fund Xpress, the regional bus service overseen by GRTA. Finally, the planning process continues to advance for helping people take public transit to their medical appointments, and other critical destinations, in metro Atlanta and throughout Georgia.
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Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s fundraising accelerates in 2013, latest campaign disclosure report shows

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has almost $1.5 million in cash in his campaign coffers, according to the latest campaign contribution disclosure report.

Reed is raising funds at a rate dramatically higher than last year. The mayor raised almost $325,000 in the first quarter of 2013. By comparison, Reed raised about $200,000 during the entire last half of 2012, reports show

The mayor is heading into a reelection campaign with no other contenders raising anywhere near the same amount of money, according to Reed’s report that was received April 5 by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
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Final Four fans stay close to Centennial Olympic Park – on a brilliant Sunday afternoon

In 2008, Atlanta won the bid for the Final Four with a campaign theme of “1,000 steps.” On Sunday afternoon, the plan seemed to be a success.

The densest crowds were gathered around the festival in Centennial Olympic Park. Traffic, pedestrian and vehicular, elsewhere in Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead was no heavier than any normal Sunday afternoon on a pretty Spring day.

The city’s plans to rein in vendors and traffic congestion seemed to function as planned. The only items missing from the city’s plan were the huge advertising wraps that Downtown landlords were authorized to sell and drape from their buildings.
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Buckhead recycling gathered tons of waste; April 27 is next city event for disposing hazardous materials

Atlanta’s spring cleaning of hazardous materials started with the collection of tons of stuff in March, even as the city looks ahead to a major collection effort on April 27.

The Eco Collection event, in Buckhead, brought in a mind-numbing amount of hazardous waste such as paint, electronics and fluorescent lightbulbs, according to a fact sheet released by sponsors Livable Buckhead and Live Thrive.

The next recycling event on the city’s agenda is the EcoDepot Recycling Day, April 27 at Turner Field. Mayor Kasim Reed’s Office of Sustainability and Councilmember Carla Smith are co-sponsoring the event, which is reported to be the largest of its kind in Atlanta.
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BeltLine’s Eastside Trail: Replacement bridge to improve access, safety

Construction started Wednesday on a replacement bridge above the Atlanta BeltLine, one that is to improve safety for users of the bridge and to provide better access to the Eastside Trail and the BeltLine’s proposed transit line.

The $4.5 million, yearlong project was delayed from a planned start date of March 18. The cause was utility work that had to be done before crews started to demolish the existing bridge.

As with many public construction efforts in Atlanta, this one is presented as a BeltLine project. Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. is involved and funding comes from a federal program that provides bonds for projects in economically distressed areas, which were provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
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Airport expanding concession space to make money, serve passengers

Atlanta airport officials are adding retail and restaurant space in a move that will generate more money for the facility through concessions contracts.

The airport is adding an unspecified amount of concessions space through expansion projects on Concourse C and Concourse D. In addition, other existing space is to be converted to concession use as it becomes available, according to airport General Manager Louis Miller.

The process of selecting prime vendors to operate some of the new space is to begin closer to the time space becomes available, Miller said. The FAA’s review of the airport’s last round of concessions contracts ended last month, when the agency dismissed its probe into the certification of disadvantaged businesses that won contracts in 2012.
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Atlanta, Evander Holyfield, to honor trailblazing firefighters, first black world champ middleweight boxer

Atlanta on Monday will commemorate its 50th anniversary of the hiring of the city’s first African American firefighters. Their first day of work was April 1, 1963.

There’s more to the event than meets the eye – including a total omission of the department’s integration on the city’s website.

The ceremony actually is to honor three aspects of the city’s history – the integration of the fire department; the city’s first seven African-American female firefighters, hired in 1977; and boxing champion Tiger Flowers (1895-1927), who lived in a 20-room mansion on the site where a fire station was built and where the ceremony will be observed.
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Legislature OKs $8.1 million for Xpress buses, stalls MARTA reorganization plan until next year

Two transit measures that are important to metro Atlanta commuters were resolved when the state Legislature ended its 2013 session late Thursday.

The Xpress bus service received $8.1 million in funding, which will enable the commuter bus program operated by GRTA to continue its service through the fiscal year that begins July 1. An additional $567,000 will keep buses running through June 30.

A proposal to reorganize MARTA and privatize some of its operations stalled in the Senate and is eligible for reconsideration in the Legislature’s 2014 session.
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Cityhood proposals in northern DeKalb County gain steam in Legislature for vote in 2014

The ball is officially rolling on proposals to create one or more cities in northern DeKalb County.

Two DeKalb lawmakers filed legislation Monday that starts the two-year process of determining the feasibility of one or more new cities. If any of the proposals are deemed appropriate by the Legislature when it reconvenes in 2014, voters of the proposed cities could vote to incorporate their area as early as Sept. 16, 2014.

The general borders of the area to be reviewed are, roughly, I-85 to the west; North Druid Hills Road to the south; and I-285 to the north and east – except that the review will include part of the community of Tucker, located north of I-285.
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Campaign season begins at Atlanta City Hall; issue for early sparring was proposed mural in Little Five Points

Election season is rising at Atlanta City Hall, even though candidates won’t be able to qualify for seats until Aug. 26.

On Wednesday, the public tussle was over a proposed mural in Little Five Points. The painting is the kind of thing that used to appear on a building overnight, with no prior discussion other than among the anonymous artists.

Atlanta resident Ron Shakir demanded to know if the proposed mural had received all the required approvals before the Zoning Committee signed off on it. Then he raised a number of questions that foreshadow the issue of open government and consistent process that’s slated to be highlighted at a “gathering” planned for Friday at City Hall by mayoral candidates Al Bartell and Paul Luna.
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Metro Atlanta’s planned export strategy could sharpen strong existing trade programs

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s decision to have the city lead the creation of a regional export strategy by this summer aims to maintain metro Atlanta’s standing among the world’s competitive alpha trade centers.

The end result is to be a stronger regional economy. Ancillary benefits would include cultural and other aspects of metro life.

Georgia already has achieved measurable gains in its international status, according to an intriguing 2012 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that hasn’t received much local attention.
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Richard Florida, Joel Kotkin duel as Georgia report presents sober outlook on labor economy, immigration

A recent report on Georgia’s economy fits right into a debate raging in real time between the urban theorists Richard Florida and Joel Kotkin.

Last week, the battle of titans spilled out in the “Daily Beast.” Kotkin started it with a piece headlined: “Florida Concedes Limits of Creative Class.” Florida fired back the next day under a headline that concluded: “Not So Fast, Joel Kotkin.”

Somewhere in the middle is an economic report on Georgia, which Tom Baxter brought to attention in SaportaReport.com. The report whispers (in comparison to the theorists) that the workers who farm and build, cook and clean – and perform other such “non-skilled” jobs – are essential to the keeping the state’s economy afloat.
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MARTA, developers may start projects at three stations by early fall

Proposed developments at three MARTA stations are so hot that they could start in a matter of months, according to MARTA records.

The proposals involve the stations of Avondale, Chamblee and King Memorial. Each proposal has “advanced to the point of the board’s decision/action and could be put into action this summer or early fall,” records show.

MARTA can’t wait for a consultant to be hired in May to handle the proposals. Instead, MARTA seeks to hire a consultant to work on these projects over the next 60 to 90 days. Bids for the consulting position close March 25.
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ATL concessions: FAA closes inquiry, decides not to appeal GDOT’s rulings that helped four firms win contracts

The FAA’s review of concessions contracts at Atlanta’s airport has ended with no plan to appeal the matter to the U.S. DOT, the FAA announced Thursday.

The decision evidently means that the $3 billion concessions contracts signed in March 2012 by Mayor Kasim Reed will stand without further governmental inquiry.

Reed’s administration did not issue a statement, but did forward the FAA announcement 13 minutes after its release by the FAA. Reed and his administration had maintained throughout the contract process and subsequent review that the city’s process was above board and without reproach.
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A relation between stadium deal and stalled MARTA bill? Who’s to say

There may be no relation whatsoever, but the plan to build a new Falcons stadium is moving forward and the proposed legislation to restructure MARTA and privatize some of its operations appears to be fading for the 2013 session.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration delivered a final deal within two months after receiving a troubled proposal from Gov. Nathan Deal. Reed’s team provided the $200 million in construction financing, plus somewhere around $100 million in public/private funds to fix up the area around the future stadium.

Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) indicated Tuesday that he’s done about all he can to sweeten his team’s proposal to reorganize MARTA. Jacobs has offered to eliminate the privatization provision in House Bill 264 and to resolve in MARTA’s favor all but one concern MARTA has raised. Still, the bill is stalled in the Senate.
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Metro Atlanta split in half by class; wealth creators reside in northside, say new studies by Richard Florida

Richard Florida’s latest research shows metro Atlanta has become a tale of two regions and likely will continue on that trajectory.

The wealth-generating creative region begins near downtown Atlanta and spreads north along Ga. 400 through Roswell, with outparcels scattered across mainly the northern suburbs. Future wealth generation seems most likely to occur in north Atlanta and close-in suburbs, in Florida’s scenarios.

Florida’s work seems to support policies such as efforts by ARC and its partners to promote community development around Atlanta’s airport and MARTA stations. Likewise with the community benefit agreements that are part of Atlanta’s requirements for supporting a new Falcons stadium.
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Airport concessions: FAA legal review continues after quick council vote on administration’s plan in 2012

A year has passed since Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed signed the $3 billion airport concessions contracts, and the FAA still has the city’s process for selecting vendors under legal review.

Reed signed the contracts March 12, 2012. The FAA notified the city in April that the FAA contends four winning firms were not eligible for preferences they received in the city’s selection process, and thus should not be considered.

The Atlanta City Council approved the contracts after Reed’s administration had pressed for a quick vote on its choice of prime vendors to operate more than 150 storefronts. The administration wanted a vote 13 days after presenting its proposal. Ten of those days fell on weekends or holidays.
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Stadium deal: A briar patch with free tickets, wary partners, hardened blight

The Atlanta City Council really doesn’t want to be thrown into the briar patch when it comes to its role in the deal for a new Falcons stadium.

As council members realized Thursday, they have no choice but to find a way through the thorny thicket of a deal that they inherited this year from the Georgia Legislature. Their meeting was scheduled for two hours and it lasted five and a half.

A lot of fur went flying. Such as – Why is Invest Atlanta slated to receive free tickets to events in the new stadium when other city entities are barred from accepting such items by Atlanta’s ethics rules?
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Metro Atlanta’s transportation funding clobbered by recession, dip in federal support, ARC study shows

Some truly jaw-dropping numbers that reveal the harrowing impact of the recession on transportation funding in metro Atlanta were presented Wednesday to the board that oversees GRTA.

All the numbers relate to the amount of money that will be available to build and maintain roads and bridges, and transit. The revenue figures are down – across the board – from federal to state to local dollars.

Here’s a wry observation of Georgia’s expected share of the federal transportation bill that President Obama signed in 2012: “We were excited to see it, until we began to look at the money in it,” said John Orr, a senior planner with ARC who made the presentation to GRTA’s board.
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Auburn Avenue gets state incentive to spur businesses along streetcar route

The effort to spur businesses that could be served by the future Atlanta Streetcar along Auburn Avenue got a lift Tuesday in the form of a state program that provides tax credits for new jobs.

A section of Auburn Avenue now is an Opportunity Zone. The designation will provide a tax credit of $3,500 for one new job to companies that create two net jobs. The tax credit lasts five years, according to the state Department of Community Affairs, which approved the new zone.

The designation is particularly important, coming as it does amidst a whirlwind of activity – both planned and halted – along the street that once was the center of black commerce in the south. Continue reading

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West End and southwest Atlanta: Tweaking Northside Drive could spur growth in areas skipped by last boom

The Georgia Tech study of Northside Drive offers some interesting prospects for the next chapter of Atlanta’s West End and other neighborhoods south of I-20.

The study offers a solution that it contends is a relatively easy way to reconnect West End with downtown Atlanta via Northside Drive. The solution resolves the impasse created by I-20.

The proposal is significant because, if implemented, it could prime southwest Atlanta for the next wave of intown redevelopment. Fort McPherson’s planned conversion to civilian uses could benefit from the improved access, as well.
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Farm to table food movement celebrates success in Georgia

The farm to table food movement was the unheralded winner in a ceremony at the state Capitol to recognize school districts that serve locally grown food to students.

The actual awards went to six districts in metro Atlanta, out of 25 awards statewide. These districts were honored for their pledge, in the state’s farm to school program, to serve more locally grown food in their cafeterias as part of the state’s formal farm to school program.

The ceremony highlighted the amazing rate at which the farm to table movement is growing. Georgia is pushing the school program as a complement to the national HealthierUS Schools Challenge, which has recognized 170 schools in Georgia.
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Tech’s study of Northside Drive could guide improvements in communities near planned Falcons stadium

The pending deal for a new Falcons stadium on Northside Drive ensures the road will be a busy corridor for years to come.

As that deal comes together, Georgia Tech graduate students are putting the finishing touches on recommendations that intend to transform Northside Drive into a grand transit boulevard. Tech’s study is to be complete in May.

One goal of Tech’s study is to improve east-west connectivity, from Midtown and Downtown into some forgotten neighborhoods to the west of Northside Drive. The study also calls for improving north-south connectivity to provide a strong spine for future development and mobility that will solidify Atlanta’s core center.
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New report challenges MARTA’s management study that’s fueling Legislature’s call for change

A new report commissioned by a national transit union cites what it contends are deep flaws in MARTA’s own management study, which is fueling the General Assembly’s effort to reorganize MARTA and promote the privatization of some jobs.

The new report is part of the groundswell of opposition the national union and its advocates are attempting to mount against looming changes in the management and oversight of metro Atlanta’s largest transit system.

In the past, the presence of the national union appeared to be barely evident in MARTA’s affairs. This moment is different, as evidenced by strong language in the report by a professor at Columbia University who specializes in privatization:
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Police raids, building price lift veil on business district south of Five Points

A string of narcotics arrests near Five Points last week, plus arrests for several outstanding warrants and the recovery of a stolen handgun, are among the latest examples of the challenges of sprucing up the city’s southern business district.

This section of downtown Atlanta remains a place of competing objectives. The planned billion-dollar redevelopment of the gulch and neighboring area may spark a restoration of Atlanta’s historic urban core, even as an underground economy seems to thrive in the current environment.

The pedigree of one building where drug arrests were made highlights part of the economic tension. The building was purchased in 2009 for a sum higher than may be expected in the recession: 175 percent of the value assigned by Fulton County’s tax assessors.
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Atlanta’s $922 million fix-it list was $750 million when cited in 2008 report

Atlanta’s next fix-it program is based on a report that reads like a “Guinness Book of World Records” of the city’s public amenities.

Ever wonder about sidewalks? Atlanta has 2,158 miles of them, and 395 miles are defective. Ever suspect that traffic flow could be improved if signals were fixed? The answer’s in the report. Recreation centers and playgrounds? They’re in there, too.

The report, issued in 2008, recommends the city borrow $250 million to start the repair program. Mayor Kasim Reed has landed on the same sum, and is considering a recommendation for Atlanta to borrow that amount of money this year.
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Stadium deal offers Atlanta biggest opportunity since airport concessions contracts to shape social policy

Atlanta’s role in funding the proposed Falcons stadium provides Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council with their biggest opportunity since the airport concessions contracts to shape social objectives through public investments.

With the city’s airport contracts, the city strongly encouraged joint ventures and required a minimum of 36 percent of contracts be awarded to disadvantaged businesses. In another example of tightly drawn requirements, a group of restaurant contracts required specific types of food to be served – food unique to the American South.
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Organized opposition emerges to MARTA’s proposed restructuring, privatization of some jobs

Opponents of the expansive legislative proposal to remake MARTA’s governance structure and privatize jobs took to the streets Thursday and say they collected about a thousand signatures supporting their view.

The protest movement now consists of three entities: MARTA’s union; the national union office in Washington, D.C.; and Georgians for Better Transit.

The transit group is a state affiliate of Americans for Transit, of which former MARTA GM Beverly Scott serves as a director. The national group’s website says it is a grassroots group of transit riders and advocates who seek to secure transit funding.
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Reed supports Obama’s national infrastructure repair plan, although it’s been drowned out by sequester

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on Wednesday strongly endorsed one of President Obama’s domestic proposals, even as it has been swept from the stage by debate over budget cuts known as the sequester.

During Obama’s State of the Union message, the president reintroduced the idea of repairing the nation’s transportation infrastructure. The plan he discussed is to fix worn roads, bridges, ports, water and sewerage, and transit – and to pay for the upgrades with measures including a national infrastructure bank.
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Georgia signs Toyota to use Brunswick port to ship SUVs built in Kentucky to buyers in Russia, Ukraine

Toyota announced Tuesday a deal that underscores the growing role of Georgia’s ports in the global supply chain.

Toyota will use the state port in Brunswick to ship its midsize crossover SUV to Russia and Ukraine. The vehicles are assembled in Georgetown, Ky.

Toyota is a new client for the ports authority and it joins Caterpillar in shipping machines through the port. Last year, Caterpillar cited the Brunswick port in its decision to build near Athens a manufacturing plant that is to serve markets in Europe and Latin America.
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BeltLine: Construction returns as advisory group ponders equity issues

A new report shows that construction activity along the Atlanta BeltLine is trending upward after a stark decline during the recession.

Fourteen projects were under construction in 2012. That compares to four projects in 2011, three in 2010, and nine in 2009. There were 31 projects being built in 2008, according to the new report from the city’s Bureau of Planning.

The concentration of development in northeast Atlanta – half the projects being built last year were in the Freedom Parkway subarea – speaks to the issue of equitable development, which is the subject of an advisory group that’s to meet Friday.
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Georgia to update rules on radioactive materials as part of routine program to maintain safety

Georgia is preparing to repeal rules for radioactive waste disposal because the state is not in the business of storing such waste and has no plans to start, a state official said.

The state also intends to update its regulations of radioactive materials used for medical and industrial purposes. The revision aims to bring state rules into compliance with new federal standards.

Both measures are part of the routine maintenance of Georgia’s rules and regulations of radioactive materials, according to Jac Capp, chief of the air protection branch of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources.
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Atlanta’s new workforce law among possible community agreements to be addressed by city, Falcons

A central question facing the Atlanta City Council is how to harness the city’s influence in the proposed deal to help pay for the planned Falcons stadium.

Just this month, the city enacted a new law that seems to require the stadium’s builders to hire a certain proportion of disadvantaged and underemployed residents. Falcons President Rich McKay said the team is committed to such social objectives – and that they will be addressed.

In addition, some on the council want the new stadium to address blight in nearby neighborhoods, specifically along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. However, Councilmember Michael Julian Bond noted that the project can’t be a panacea for, “every social ill under the sun.”
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Atlanta Council looks for ways stadium deal could be required to help residents, nearby neighborhoods

In about three weeks, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s staff expects to deliver to the city council the meat of the legislation that will enable the city council to vote to help fund a new Falcons stadium.

Given the level of support for the new stadium voiced by several councilmembers, its evident some of them will spend the next three weeks figuring out how to ensure that community benefits agreements are created to help city residents and the neighborhoods around. Such concerns were a major issue at the council’s four-hour work session Wednesday.

Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay assured the council several times that team owner Arthur Blank is committed to being a good civic partner. McKay emphasized that Penny McPhee, president of the Blank Foundation, will oversee that outreach effort.
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Adams Park in southwest Atlanta listed on National Registry of Historic Places for landscape, stonework

A portion of Adams Park, in southwest Atlanta, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of attributes including its landscape design and stonework.

The recognition is a reminder of the efforts underway in many of the city parks, in addition to headline-grabbing initiatives such as the Atlanta BeltLine and Buckhead Trail.

The Adams Park designation is the result of work by the Adams Park Foundation on behalf of a park that – like Chastain Memorial Park, in Buckhead – was originally intended to attract residents to the region by offering first-class recreational amenities. The same landscape company worked on Chastain and Adams parks. Continue reading

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Atlanta City Council set to grill stadium advocates on why city should help finance it by extending hotel tax

Advocates of a new football stadium are to get a chance Wednesday to try to convince members of the Atlanta City Council that the city should help build a new facility.

The work session, set for 11:30 a.m., will be the first real opportunity for councilmembers to engage the advocates. Councilmembers already have raised questions about how neighborhoods around the stadium could benefit from its construction and operation.

Without the council’s support, Atlanta’s development authority likely won’t be able to borrow enough money to help build the stadium. No funding source other than the city’s hotel/motel tax has been publicly identified to fill the gap between what the NFL and Falcons are willing to pay, and the actual cost of construction.
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Hip hop star Future keeps Atlanta’s music industry in national spotlight

Atlanta’s newest music ambassador is a hip hop artist from the Kirkwood neighborhood whose photo appeared this month on a section front of The New York Times.

At a time the region is receiving little in the way of good news coverage from media around the nation, the performer known as Future is keeping the city’s music industry in the national spotlight.

Future’s photo appeared this month in The New York Times with a 1,000-word story about Atlanta’s ever-changing hip hop scene. On March 2, Future will appear as a headline act in the 20th annual 9 Mile Music Festival, at Miami’s Virginia Key Beach – a beach where blacks could gather during the segregation era.
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Plan for big changes at MARTA receives little push-back, except from union; ready for vote at Capitol

The most significant proposal in decades to reform MARTA is sailing through the legislative process at the state Capitol and could be up for a vote in the House as early as next week.

So far, no serious objections to the proposal have been raised in public by MARTA or the three governments that control MARTA – Atlanta, and Fulton and DeKalb counties, though union has voiced concerns. The sponsor said the bill intends to help MARTA serve its current and future riders.

“I hope that the bill is received in the way it is intended – and that is to improve MARTA’S financial conditions so that we can, hopefully, see some future expansion of the system,” said Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), who chairs the MARTA oversight committee.
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GRTA quietly making case to state lawmakers to fund Xpress bus service

GRTA is working diligently at the state Capitol to support funding for Xpress, the regional bus service that is in line to receive $8.7 million in state funding, if state lawmakers support budget requests by Gov. Nathan Deal.

GRTA, which manages the bus system, is making the case to help lawmakers see the value in state funding for a transit system that reportedly takes 1.5 million cars a year off metro Atlanta’s roads with its 2.4 million boardings in fiscal year 2012.

Jannine Miller, GRTA’s executive director, on Wednesday walked GRTA board members through the presentation the agency is delivering to lawmakers. The message is simple: Xpress represents a good fiscal policy for lawmakers to support.
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Atlanta’s role in stadium may become clearer Wednesday; council’s role suggests use of Westside TAD

The Atlanta City Council is to receive its first official briefing on the proposed deal to build a new Falcons stadium Wednesday at a meeting of its Finance Committee.

The presentation may reveal the city’s possible role in providing at least $100 million in financing for the planned stadium. Representatives of the mayor’s office, Falcons, and Georgia World Congress Center Authority, are expected to discuss topics including the authority and the hotel/motel tax.

One reason the council may be asked to vote on the stadium deal is to approve any financing that Mayor Kasim Reed may suggest be provided to develop the stadium or the surrounding area through the city’s Westside Tax Allocation District – which had a reported fund balance of $95 million in 2011. The city’s other, more likely, sources of major stadium funding are not typically overseen by the council.
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Atlanta’s bid to ban prostitutes in areas with high rates of solicitation renews debate over complex crime

The latest effort to police prostitution in Atlanta affirms that the solution can’t be to simply penalize it away.

A proposal to be discussed Monday at Atlanta City Hall calls for banning convicted prostitutes from entering police-defined areas of prostitution. Support comes from residents who are tired of the crime, as well as its associated troubles, in their neighborhoods – mainly in Midtown and south of I-20.

Push-back comes from victims rights advocates who contend the ban punishes only the convicted prostitute; does nothing for rehabilitation; and targets streetwalkers more than those who work in hotels and motels. In addition, the provision does little to penalize johns because only a small proportion are arrested, advocates contend.
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Comedy or tragedy? Fulton legislative meeting heralds new era in county politics, government, civic theater

The latest act in the civic theater that is Fulton County began Thursday in a crowded room on the fourth floor of Georgia’s Capitol.

Republican lawmakers sat quietly while an hour’s worth of speakers protested Republican proposals to change what has been the natural order of the county – at least, it was the natural order before Republicans took effective control of the county’s legislative delegation this year.

The chorus in this case could do little to relieve tension, but the 75 who gathered certainly helped establish the mood. There were few smiles among the crowd of lawyers and lobbyists, community advocates and union reps, preachers and seniors – many of whom are familiar faces at meetings of the county commission and Atlanta City Council.
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Georgia lawmakers refloat plan to take part of Tennessee River

Georgia has resumed its offer to Tennessee to take a piece of the Tennessee River in order to resolve a border dispute, but this year’s proposal is far more modest than a plan offered in 2008.

The current proposal appears to seek just a small bite of Tennessee, a smidgeon just big enough to give Georgia a shoreline along the Tennessee River. Just enough shoreline to do provide a footing for, say, a new pipe to be sunk into the river to draw water into Georgia.
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Atlanta’s role in stadium bond deal may involve Downtown Development Authority, a wing of Invest Atlanta

The city of Atlanta has at least four entities that could sell bonds to help finance construction of a new Atlanta Falcon’s stadium. The Atlanta Downtown Development Authority stands out as a likely candidate.

The DDA is beholden only to Atlanta City Hall – Mayor Kasim Reed chairs the DDA’s board, and he supports the new stadium; City Hall appoints or confirms the board members. State law sets no limit on the amount of bonds any DDA can issue.

The next Atlanta DDA board meeting is set for Feb. 21, if the board keeps to its routine schedule. Should the DDA be the chosen vehicle, this date would allow Atlanta to keep its proposed end of the project moving apace – which is in keeping with Gov. Nathan Deal’s approach to this year’s legislative session.
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Feds receive evidence of possible fraud in Atlanta’s jobs program; spending nears $10 million a year

Indications of fraud and/or abuse in Atlanta’s federally funded workforce training program, revealed by a city audit made public Monday, have been turned over to the federal Department of Labor.

In addition, the audit recommends that Atlanta’s mayor and city council consider discontinuing the program because of performance and compliance risks. The agency’s budget approaches $10 million a year.

Atlanta Chief Operating Office Duriya Farooqui received the audit in October 2012 and issued her response Monday. Farooqui wrote that the audit is not what she expected, and she refuted some of its findings.
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Redistricting proposal for Fulton County creates three white, three black commission districts

A redistricting proposal for Fulton County’s board of commissioners would create three commission districts serving majority white populations in north Fulton, and three districts serving majority black populations in south Fulton. The seventh post, county chair, would be elected and serve countywide.

This plan is moving at a time Fulton County’s government appears to have no registered lobbyists to present its views at the Capitol. The county’s previous lobbyist, Michael Vaquer, who served six years, terminated representation Dec. 31, according to the state’s Government Transparency Commission.

An added wrinkle is that the redistricting proposal comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing a legal challenge to the constitutionality of a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that regulates the formation of districts. Georgia’s attorney general signed a brief urging the court to take up the case, from Shelby County, Ala.
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Redistricting proposal for Fulton County’s board of commissioners creates new district, cuts at-large post

The long-awaited redistricting map to be proposed for Fulton County’s board of commissioners was introduced Friday, and it contains at least two major changes in Fulton’s form of government – while keeping a seven-member board.

One new district would be created in northwest Fulton, and one countywide post would be eliminated, under the plan introduced by Rep. Lynne Riley (R-Johns Creek), who chairs the Fulton County delegation.

The proposal calls for elections under the new district boundaries to be held during the general election of 2014, according to House Bill 171.
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Appetite for groupon to farm-to-table cafe shows demand for organic foods

The farm-to-table movement has reached the point in metro Atlanta that today it is attracting buyers in a deal-of-the-day internet coupon.

Sweet Potato Cafe, in Stone Mountain, is offering a half-price deal for brunch, lunch or dinner through groupon.com. Over 100 deals had been sold by mid morning.

Georgia’s movement of sustainable agriculture also marks another milestone: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, has signed on as the keynote speaker of the Farm Rx conference sponsored in February by Georgia Organics.
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Buckhead Trail to move ahead with design/build agreement with GDOT

Atlanta made a final step Wednesday, perhaps the conclusive one in terms of creating needed bureaucracy, in the journey to build a new park system along Ga. 400 in Buckhead at minimal public expense.

A proposal that formally brings Georgia’s Department of Transportation into the design and construction of the planned Ga. 400 Greenway Trail was approved unanimously by the Utilities Committee of the Atlanta City Council. The council is expected to approve the deal at its Feb. 4 meeting.

Hopes for the trail are high: “This project has the chance to be an example of inventive use of space that people will fly in to see,” Atlanta Councilman Howard Shook said Wednesday evening.
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Clark Atlanta’s enrollment spells trouble for finance venture for student housing by Invest Atlanta, CAU

Deteriorating conditions at Clark Atlanta University may force a company that’s comprised of Atlanta’s development arm and CAU to close, according to the latest audit of Invest Atlanta.

According to bondview.com, ADA/CAU Partners, Inc. already is in technical default of bonds it issued for more than $50 million to finance the construction of student housing. The company has depleted its reserve funds and had to borrow from its insurer to make its payment last year, according to the audit of Invest Atlanta.

The Invest Atlanta audit includes this cautionary statement about the partnership between Invest Atlanta and CAU: “Should the company’s operations not improve, the company might not be able to continue as a going concern.”
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Buckhead a study in contrasts: Mobility to improve as office market sags, construction slumps

Buckhead provides an interesting glimpse into the mixed bag that is metro Atlanta’s commercial real estate industry, a vital piece of the region’s economy.

The good news is two major transportation projects should improve access measurably in a region where prestigious buildings are surrounded by traffic congestion. One project involves MARTA’s Buckhead Station, while the other addresses the interchange of Ga. 400 and I-85.

The not-so-good news is the office market continues to drag. Buckhead was one of the region’s five submarkets that lost tenancy in fourth quarter 2012, though Buckhead showed an overall gain in the year, according to the latest vacancy report from Cassidy Turley, a commercial real estate services provider.
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Regional Business Coalition joins effort to promote rainwater harvesting

The message about the value of rainwater harvesting should reach a broader audience this year.

The Regional Business Council has signed on as a partner with the Southeast Rainwater Harvesting Systems Assoc., a non-profit that promotes the endeavor. The RBC plans to spread the message through the business community, possibly throughs chambers of commerce, as well as the private sector.

“What caught my attention was the significant amount of water we as a region could save through rainwater harvesting,” said Terry Lawler, the RBC’s executive director. “Our organization has the capacity to get this message into the public eye in a way that will be bigger than the volunteer organization can.”
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MARTA GM Keith Parker talks up privatization, strategic vision in speech to DeKalb chamber

MARTA GM Keith Parker said Wednesday he intends to pursue a consultant’s recommendations that MARTA privatize some services in order to fix the battered budget.

“If we make these adjustments, we will, by 2018 again be contributing to our fiscal reserves rather than bleeding them,” Parker told the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce during his talk at the “Executive Speaker Series,” formerly known as the “First Monday Lunch Series.”

Privatization will fly in the face of Parker’s plans to boost morale among MARTA’s 4,500 workers. Privatization also will present opportunities for local businesses to take over the service, he said – almost in passing.
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Morehouse College credit rating cut, Kennesaw State University stable, in volatile higher ed bond market

Morehouse College, the alma mater of Martin Luther King, Jr., has received a credit rating that’s barely investment grade, and with a negative outlook, on $23.4 million in bonds to be sold this week. The rating is just three notches above a rating of speculative.

Kennesaw State University has received a credit rating that’s solid investment grade, and stable, on $41.6 million in bonds slated for sale last month.

These two ratings illustrate the divergence of credit risk among Georgia’s institutions of higher learning. As state lawmakers consider Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposal to borrow almost $200 million this year to expand facilities at public colleges and universities, they face going to market in a sector dinged as negative across the board by Moody’s Investors Services.
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Governor reduces bond package; Metro Atlanta avoids slowdown

The depth of the recession in Georgia is evident in the dwindling amount of money the state plans to borrow to improve its infrastructure.

The bond sum proposed in 2007 was $914 million. The current bond proposal is almost 22 percent lower, at just over $713 million, in the budget recommendation for 2014 presented by Gov. Nathan Deal. Metro Atlanta’s slice of the pie increased by 16 percent in snapshots of the years 2007 and 2014.

The comparison of two budget years hardly represents a comprehensive analysis of state investment. It does provide a glimpse of the state’s investment dashboard and outlook during the lingering downturn that officially started in late 2007.
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Atlanta audit: Lax records of $128,000 gift card program likely means no c

Atlanta city departments have spent at least $128,000 on gift cards for city employees to boost their morale, and record keeping was so lax that there’s no way to tell if there were any wrongdoing, according to a new audit by the city auditor.

The audit – to be presented formally on Tuesday to the Atlanta City Council – makes two recommendations to get a handle on the situation. The responsible parties agree with the recommendations: The COO and commissioner of human resources in one instance; and the COO and chief procurement officer in the other.

The gift card program was intended to raise morale among city employees during an era when they had gone for years without raises, according to comments by city COO Duriya Farooqui that were posted on myfoxatlanta.com in October.
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Xpress bus service funded in Gov. Deal’s proposed FY 2014 budget

The Xpress bus service operated by GRTA will continue to operate through at least June 2014 if the Legislature leaves intact the operating funds recommended by Gov. Nathan Deal in his budget proposal for FY 2014.

Deal also made history by including Xpress funding in the state’s annual budget, rather than its supplemental budget. That’s significant because eliminating money from programs that are included in the annual budget has, historically, been much more difficult than eliminating funding that was provided in the amended budget, or supplemental budget, the Legislature adopts in the middle of a fiscal year.

Deal provided $8.1 million for Xpress operations in the budget he unveiled Thursday. The money would offset the loss of local and federal funds, according to the line item in the governor’s budget.
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State of Gwinnett : Chairman Charlotte Nash addresses past woes, bright future; promotes citizenship

Gwinnett County commission Chairman Charlotte Nash laid her cards on the table Wednesday in her “State of the County” address.

The speech presented some challenges – the economy is harsh, the county budget is lean and getting leaner. Fresh allegations of public corruption in DeKalb County are reminders of Gwinnett’s recent and continuing problems.

Nash met it all head-on in her opening remarks: “Gwinnett’s story has been filled with ups and downs and plots twists along the way. The last few chapters were painful at times, and a few characters have been removed. But overall, Gwinnett’s story is a tale of success and a testament to those who made it happen.”
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Rodney Mims Cook, 1924-2013: Recalled as a friend by Atlanta Councilmember Michael Julian Bond

Another significant figure in the history of Atlanta’s civil rights movement, and the state GOP, has passed away – former city alderman and state Rep. Rodney Mims Cook, Sr.

Cook, who died Sunday, is remembered for his work to help struggling communities when he served on the old Board of Aldermen. Cook’s efforts on behalf of civil rights in the state Legislature were noted Tuesday by Atlanta Councilperson Michael Julian
Bond, whose father was supported by Cook when state lawmakers barred the elder Bond from taking the seat he had won in Georgia’s House of Representatives.

“My family is forever grateful for Mr. Cook’s bravery and righteous fervor in defense of my father during a very frightening and difficult time,” Bond said in a statement.
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ARC’s first reorg in a generation aims to meet region’s emerging needs

The Atlanta Regional Commission is embarking on its first reorganization in a generation, in order to meet the demands of the post-recession paradigm that’s emerging from the public and private sectors.

Silos of expertise are to be replaced by collaborative teams. An example of the new approach would be for ARC planners to examine mobility rather than transportation – a shift that frames the issue in a fashion that begs for broader solutions.

“Because we are changing in so many ways as a region, ARC realizes we have to be more adaptable to help local governments solve more problems,” said Doug Hooker, ARC’s executive director.
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Builders of Falcons stadium may have to hire low-income city residents

With debate looming over construction funding for a Falcons stadium, another issue is taking shape – this one over who will get hired for construction jobs.

The Atlanta City Council is considering legislation to require eligible construction contracts funded by the city to employ a certain proportion of unemployed and under-employed residents of Atlanta. The proposal requires the workers to be either skilled, or in an approved training program.

The legislation does not specify whether its scope would reach to include the hotel/motel tax, which is set by the city council. The tax is now planned to help pay for construction of the new stadium that is to have a retractable roof.
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New MARTA GM Keith Parker visits GRTA board for hellos, handshakes

MARTA GM Keith Parker got a warm reception from the GRTA board when he visited on Wednesday.

Parker made a few remarks in which in he introduced himself as a complete person – a manager who favors “low cost, high impact improvements,” a leader who’s a good listener, and a family man with three children – including one just a month old.

The visit was just the latest of Parker’s stops on his outreach tour. Parker didn’t make any grand announcements, but he did make the important effort to meet his professional colleagues in the public transit arena.
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Atlanta Mayor Reed enters reelection year with $1.2 million in coffer

Entertainment entrepreneur Tyler Perry contributed to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s campaign war chest that now contains just over $1.2 million, according to a campaign finance disclosure dated Tuesday.

Perry’s contribution of $2,500 on Dec. 17 was part of the $363,690.13 listed in itemized cash contributions Reed raised during the final reporting period of 2012, the report shows. The report shows an addition $20,233.44 in in-kind contributions, plus $2,020 in cash contributions of amounts of less than $100 each.

Kevin Rathbun Steak, on Krog Street, was one of the places Reed’s campaign spent a portion of the $176,459.22 in itemized expenditures, the report shows. Rathbun was paid $273.20 for two events listed as “official business meeting(s)” in September and October, the report shows.
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Crum & Forster building – Court order preserves a third, rest to be razed

The front third of the Crum & Forster building in Midtown will be saved, and the rest of the building razed, according to a consent order signed Tuesday by Fulton Superior Court Judge John Goger.

These terms were reached Tuesday in an amended consent order negotiated by lawyers for the Georgia Tech Foundation and two defendants – the city of Atlanta and its Board of Zoning Appeals. The ruling appears to end a preservation battle that has raged since GTF filed a request for a demolition permit in April 2008.

Goger denied a motion to allow five interveners in the case, a ruling that affirmed a comment from a lawyer for the city who said all concerns of the proposed interveners were resolved by the consent agreement.
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Invest Atlanta to use view from 29th floor offices to spur job creation

Atlanta’s development authority, Invest Atlanta, is open for business in new office space that offers a panoramic view of the city and region.

Invest Atlanta now fills the 29th floor of the Georgia-Pacific Center. The modern architecture is a far cry from the exposed brick-and-beam look of the old space, so popular among start-ups at the end of the 20th century.

The new space is all about gleaming fixtures and views that intend to convey a confident message about Atlanta’s future. The look speaks to the agency’s renewed focus on creating jobs, as opposed to incentivizing development.
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New initiative aims to help children in Georgia, now ranked 37th in child well-being by Casey Foundation

Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal is slated to announce Monday that Georgia is creating a one-stop shop to help pregnant women and mothers of infants get all the assistance their communities provide.

The new initiative, Great Start Georgia, aims to promote the welfare of young children by helping their mothers and others who care for them. Mother and child will be guided through the process of locating and accessing existing programs.

The program intends to address the precarious conditions facing Georgia’s children. The state now ranks 37th in terms of child well-being, according to the 2012 Kids Count Data Book released last summer by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
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Silence greets last contract for a developmental highway – Fall Line Freeway –