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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
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,’ …”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Silence greets last contract for a developmental highway – Fall Line Freeway – once a bone of contention
The silent thud of public response to the pending completion of the Fall Line Freeway is an indication of how far the politics of roads in Georgia have evolved in 25 years.
There was a time the very words “developmental highway,” which is what the Fall Line Freeway is, sparked strong response from friends and foes. However, there was barely a peep after the state announced Wednesday the final contract to complete the road was let – for $53.8 million with completion set for 2015.
A new center to promote cultural and economic exchange with the 55 nations of Africa is being promoted for the Centennial Olympic Park area of downtown Atlanta.
Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) advocates the idea of establishing such a center in Senate Resolution 9, which she has pre-filed for consideration by the General Assembly once it convenes Jan. 14.
The proposed center is part of James’ much broader push for the state Department of Economic Development to foster relations with the 55 nations of Africa. The resolution outlines specific roles for Atlanta, Atlanta’s airport, the state port in Savannah, and the state of Georgia to play in the proposed relationship.
Two matters that will affect the future of transportation options in DeKalb County and other eastern counties of the metro region are likely to rise in debate when Legislature convenes.
One involves the fate of the 432,000 commuters who use Xpress buses to travel through DeKalb. Funding for the commuter bus system is slated to end in June unless Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly provide operating funds.
The other issue is DeKalb’s proposed sales tax to pay for road and sidewalk improvements. The Legislature has to authorize the tax before voters could cast their ballots.
Carter’s Inc. will face clawback penalties if it does not create at least 200 jobs in Atlanta that pay certain wages and benefits, according to terms of the $350,000 grant Carter’s received from Atlanta’s development authority.
Meanwhile, Carter’s will receive at least $30 million in assistance for its corporate relocation to the Phipps Plaza area. Funding sources cited in the terms of the city’s grant to the apparel maker include one that’s unnamed, “and other sources from State of Georgia.” Carter’s market cap is $3.2 billion.
The grant from Atlanta provided just enough incentive to convince Carter’s board to approve the relocation to Atlanta from Shelton, Ct., according to Tom Carroll, Carter’s vice president for real estate and construction.
Airport concessions: FAA to review GDOT ruling on DBE vendors picked by city for some of $3 billion package
Atlanta may end the year with no final resolution of questions raised by the federal government about some of the $3 billion in airport concessions contracts Mayor Kasim Reed signed March 12.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it may appeal a ruling that favors the vendors chosen by the city, which was issued late Thursday by the state Department of Transportation. The FAA had ordered GDOT to review its decision to award four winning vendors a federal preference that may have helped them win their contracts.
Reed’s administration did not respond to either the GDOT ruling or the FAA response. Instead, the administration issued a statement concerning the decision by a losing concessionaire to stop its litigation. The company was not part of the FAA’s review.
Check back for updates
The four companies at risk of losing their concessions contracts at Atlanta’s airport will not lose an important certification that helped them win their contracts.
The Georgia Department of Transportation determined the companies will not be decertified as disadvantaged business enterprises, GDOT spokesperson Jill Goldberg said Thursday.
The Federal Aviation Administration had ordered GDOT to review the certifications, contending the companies did not deserve the federal preference. The FAA was notified of GDOT’s decision Thursday afternoon.
The Sierra Club has named the Atlanta BeltLine as one of the best transportation projects in the country.
The BeltLine was included in the latest report of the national organization’s campaign titled, “Beyond Oil.” The campaign’s goal is to move the United States off oil in 20 years.
The Sierra Club of Georgia was among the earliest supporters of the BeltLine. During the recent campaign for a regional sales tax for transportation, the group opposed the tax – in part – because members thought the tax promoted sprawl and did not provide more money for the types of transportation options represented by the BeltLine.
MARTA intends to add more security cameras to monitor passengers in stations, as well as its own employees when they’re at various work locations.
MARTA has budgeted from $8.3 million to $10.4 million for the project, according to the advance notice to bidders. The transit system already has beefed up its camera network on vans, trains and buses.
Closed circuit TV cameras have become quite popular tools to combat crime. A growing number of public agencies have adopted them. For example, the Atlanta City Council recently voted to spend up to $2.25 million to buy and install 112 cameras, bringing the total number of Atlanta Police Department cameras to more than 760 cameras.
DeKalb County advancing plans for improved infrastructure despite hard times, tax digest that dropped by half
DeKalb County is a close-to-home example of communities across the country that are in the vice grip of hard times – DeKalb’s tax digest has plummeted and the school district is on probation.
Despite the times, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis is pushing ahead with an ambitious infrastructure agenda – just a month after his uncontested reelection bid in November and five months after voters rejected a proposed regional transportation sales tax.
To DeKalb’s current $1.345 billion water and sewer program, Ellis would add roads and sidewalks; an animal shelter; and police facilities. The state Legislature will be asked to approve methods of paying for the some of the projects.
DeKalb County voters may get another shot at a transportation sales tax.
DeKalb intends to ask the General Assembly in 2013 to approve a local option sales tax for a rainbow of purposes including congestion relief, according to the budget proposal released Friday by DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis.
The proposed regional sales tax that was on the July 31 ballot was rejected by a narrow margin in DeKalb – 2 percent, or 3,279 votes out of 126,221 ballots cast. The measure may have been approved if more MARTA service had been offered in south DeKalb.
With the clock ticking on funding for Atlanta’s only region-wide bus service, GRTA is making its case with Gov. Nathan Deal and state budget writers for enough money to keep the buses on the road.
“We’re doing all we can to get assurances,” Jannine Miller, GRTA’s executive director, said Wednesday at the monthly board meeting of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.
The strength of Georgia’s economic recovery will be a key determinant of whether the state funds Xpress after June 2013. The bad news is that Georgia’s latest revenue figures, released Dec. 7, don’t send a clear signal about the hoped-for recovery.
More Atlanta Streetcar woes: May need to string power cables from buildings; Need two sites for stops
The Atlanta Streetcar is to be operating within 12 months, but its builders don’t have all the property the project will require.
MARTA is getting ready to start talking to companies it wants to hire to appraise 26 parcels along the streetcar route. The parcels are needed for purposes including two streetcar stops and a roadway realignment.
There’s also new trouble with stringing the overhead power cables that will provide electricity to propel the vehicles. Power cables may have to be strung from guy wires attached to buildings, in some areas, because utility poles can’t be installed above newly discovered basements.
The politics of water in Georgia have yet to manifest at anything close to the level they reach in the arid southwest.
Yet the pot’s bubbling. One issue is the General Assembly’s intent for Georgia’s 10 regional water councils. Another is the mandated 2014 water plan update by the Metro North Georgia Water District. Not to mention reservoirs.
Boyd Austin, the Dallas mayor who chairs the water district board and supports reservoirs, said the district’s success over the past decade validates it as a role model for the other councils.
Atlanta’s Buttermilk Bottoms: Area razed for Civic Center could be renewed as Hollywood-style studio
One of the latest proposals to renew a current cornerstone of Buttermilk Bottoms – a fabled, now-demolished neighborhood of hardscrabble African Americans on the edge of downtown Atlanta – is to go Hollywood.
The Atlanta Civic Center site could be redeveloped “all together to rebrand the facility as a full-service production facility and catalyze neighborhood revitalization,” according to a statement from Mayor Kasim Reed’s office.
In 2004, the previous proposal to revitalize the Civic Center was to build a live-work-play community around it. That concept now seems as long-ago as Buttermilk Bottoms, the blighted neighborhood that was demolished, in part, to make way for the Boisfeuillet Jones Civic Center in the name of urban renewal.
The community of Tucker is celebrating the season with a holiday decorations contest that’s a slice of disappearing Americana.
The contest, among downtown businesses, represents the type of community spirit that regional leaders try so hard to promote through grants and initiatives.
Tucker’s decorations contest isn’t the only one in the region – Sandy Springs will issue awards next weekend in its holiday lighting contest. Tucker’s event simply represents one of the region’s old-timey efforts to foster a sense of community spirit.
Tri-state water wars: Army Corps delays initial step in devising water control plan for Chattahoochee basin
Georgia has battled the tri-state water war to an uneasy victory, and the Army Corps of Engineers has just issued a month-long delay in the start of its process to decide terms of the settlement.
This delay – which the corps announced Wednesday – comes at the beginning of a process that is expected to take years for the Corps to complete: The creation of the first manual in some 50 years to guide the management of the waters of the Chattahoochee River system.
“This process is just starting, and everybody will be weighing in up and down the basin,” Patricia Barmeyer, an environmental lawyer with King & Spalding, told the board of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water District at its meeting Thursday.
What should be the definition of success for Atlanta’s largest urban renewal program?
The answer to that question will be at the center of legislation the Atlanta City Council expects to consider in early 2013. The council is attempting to refocus, for these post-recession times, a city program that uses property taxes to spur development in blighted areas.
The city’s consultant seems to lean toward a definition of success based on progress reached in categories such as crime and poverty. The city’s auditor, whose audit triggered the city’s review, said it’s too early to say if the proposal is appropriate for Atlanta.
It’s slow going, but there’s light ahead in Atlanta’s effort to retool its major urban renewal effort, which is generically described as the TAD program.
Starting in early 2013, the Atlanta City Council expects to consider a range of reforms that stem from a city audit into Atlanta’s program of tax allocation districts. The council’s final joint hearing this year is set for Wednesday, and the topic is how to determine when the work of a TAD is complete.
The council has been working since its receipt in May of an audit that portrayed Invest Atlanta as a rogue agency when it came to overseeing the TAD program. Since then, the council has cut the agency’s proposed budget, communication has increased, and Brian Leary was ousted as head of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. – which is an offshoot of Invest Atlanta.
A Chicago-based airport planning firm that opened an Atlanta office in June is poised to consolidate its position to create the long-range master plan at Atlanta’s airport.
Ricondo & Assoc. will see its base fee increase from $3 million this past year to $5.35 million in the coming year, under a contract the Atlanta City Council is expected to approve Monday. The rate for the third year of the three-year contract is to be determined in the future.
The company is providing recommendations to shape the physical footprint and operations of the world’s busiest passenger airport. Ricondo’s work will influence the passenger experience during an era when the number of travelers is expected to increase by 30 percent, to 120.7 million passengers in 2031, according to the company’s forecast.
The future of high-speed passenger rail in the southeast is so uncertain that it is not a significant factor in the long-range master plan being devised for Atlanta’s airport, according to an airport official.
“Given that there are not firm high-speed rail plans, that is not included here,” in the airport’s master plan now being devised, said Tom Nissalke, the airport’s director of environmental and technical services.
This assumption on high-speed commuter rail, and a myriad of other forecasts that are driving the master plan, are to be presented Dec. 4 in a meeting that’s open to the public at Atlanta City Hall. The Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee is hosting a two-hour work session on airport related matters.
The Atlanta Streetcar appears increasingly unlikely to open in 2013, according to an update Atlanta’s public works commissioner presented Wednesday to the Transportation Committee of the Atlanta City Council.
Commissioner Richard Mendoza did not provide a direct answer to this question from Councilmember Yolanda Adrean: “When will you get the streetcar up and running?”
Mendoza said track construction will take up to 16 months after the first utility cut was made, this past summer. Just 30 percent of the requisite utility work is complete and as for its final completion date, Mendoza said: “I don’t have that information.”
This story was revised Wednesday with additional information from Carter and MARTA.
The master developer of MARTA’s Lindbergh City Center has worked out terms for a $91,000 payment it owes the transit system, MARTA officials said Tuesday.
MARTA and Carter, a major Atlanta developer, agree the money is owed and is a reconciliation of a portion of the ground lease at the Lindbergh station. Carter’s base payment in 2012 was $496,000, and the company has been paying it quarterly.
“We asked to pay in installments due to the unexpected nature of the charges,” said Scott Stringer, Carter’s executive vice president.
The million-dollar question facing more than 2 million riders a year who use the Xpress bus service is actually a multimillion-dollar question.
Will the state continue to provide funds for GRTA to maintain Xpress bus service throughout metro Atlanta?
Only Gov. Nathan Deal and the state Legislature can respond. Their final answer won’t be known until state budgets are adopted in, perhaps, March 2013.
The Final Four men’s basketball tournament in April promises to usher in an era of huge advertising wraps on downtown buildings, plus a ban on cruisers and hucksters in a proposed “public entertainment district.”
Measures to enable those outcomes are expected to sail through two Atlanta City Council committees this week and be adopted next week by the council.
The goals are to help landlords turn a profit by selling ad wraps that temporarily cover up to 40,000 square feet of the skin of a single building; to help the NCAA envision Atlanta as a great host city at least once every five years; and to help the expected 80,000 spectators enjoy their visit without feeling hassled by traffic gridlock and street hustlers.
Babe + Sage Farm: Thanksgiving feast with farm-to-table ingredients so fresh the dishes are ‘fit for a king’
GORDON – Much of our Thanksgiving Day feast was farm-to-table food.
The turkeys and vegetables had grown in the fields behind a farmhouse that Sherman’s army didn’t torch during the March to the Sea.
The distinction of dishes prepared with homegrown ingredients was that they tasted a lot like – food. Their collective flavors tapped memories of meals enjoyed long ago, in a time before everything was picked early after being grown with a dollop of fertilizer and slathering of chemicals.
Doug Dillard speaks with as much conviction for the farm-to-table agriculture movement as he has always expressed – and still does – for skyline-changing real estate developments.
“The average vegetable in Atlanta travels 1,500 miles,” Dillard said. “Of every dollar spent, 46 cents stays in the community if it’s imported. If those vegetables are grown on a local farm, 73 cents of every dollar stays in the community. Locally grown is better for us, for local jobs, for the carbon footprint, and for the health of the soil.”
Statement and summation – it’s been the backbone of Dillard’s law practice for 45 years. Now he’s branched out with sustainable farming practices on a spread his father purchased in Gwinnett County in 1960.
The extent of the farm-to-table agriculture movement will be evident Thanksgiving Day, when many tables will have dishes prepared with ingredients from a nearby farm.
Georgia is promoting the movement. Gov. Nathan Deal signed a supportive bill and UGA has formed a consortium to assist small farmers.
Georgia’s conservatives have seized on the movement, as well – questioning the motives behind the bill Deal signed, and noting in a recent seminar at the state Capitol that sustainable farming appears to be part of an effort to implement what they say is the United Nations’ socialist platform, named Agenda 21.
Waters in north Georgia are cited in half the entries in “Georgia’s Dirty Dozen,” a list of 12 offenses to the state’s waters compiled by the Georgia Water Coalition.
The report cites five specific waters in north Georgia that are troubled, and includes a sixth, which is a project in Gov. Nathan Deal’s Governor’s Water Supply Program.
Water advocates used the report’s release to criticize Georgia for environmental protection efforts it characterized as weak. The comments echo some made of President Obama’s interest and current focus on the environment.
Georgia Tech has won a $150,000 grant from the Gates Foundation that the school will use to help open the possibilities of a college degree to a brand new type of student.
Meanwhile, insights into the ways humans may come to interact with computers were on display at a campus-wide student competition. The contest explored the potential for combining uses of apps, immersive experiences and crowd-sourced information.
Taken together, the developments highlight the tremendous rate at which cyber technology is permeating everyday life. That subject, by itself, was the topic of a two-day seminar that concluded Tuesday at Tech.
The western segment of a highway proposal generally known as the Outer Perimeter is needed to handle freight traffic heading to and from the state port in Savannah, the executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority said Wednesday.
“I absolutely think it’s needed,” Curtis Foltz told the board that oversees the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. Foltz’ comment came in response to questions after he delivered a routine ports update to GRTA.
Two GRTA board members pondered, after Foltz’ presentation, whether metro Atlanta’s highway system is able to accommodate ports-related freight traffic if cargo increases at forecast rates.
Leave it to Georgia Tech to help interpret the kind of pie-in-the-sky technological phenomena the Obama campaign used to outmaneuver the Romney campaign.
The two-day “People and Technology Forum” that concluded Tuesday explored the disruptive technology that is reshaping human behaviors and interactions. Campaign tactics weren’t on the agenda, but the panelists’ general comments shed light on the recently concluded contests.
Take data mining. Obama’s campaign culled TV viewing habits from set-top cable boxes to help determine which networks reached Obama’s potential supporters. The campaign bought ads on those networks, even in unlikely places such as TV Land, according to a report on nytimes.com.
Atlanta again is at the forefront of the nation’s deliberation of civil rights issues.
First it was the airport, and hearings ordered by the FAA to decertify four Atlanta-based businesses from a federal affirmative action program – including a firm that involves the widow and daughter of former Mayor Maynard Jackson.
Add last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law was enacted soon after Atlantans – including Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis – participated in the Selma marches.
Atlanta advances array of storm water management options as state focuses its water plans on new reservoirs
As the state moves ahead with plans to build water reservoirs, Atlanta is proceeding with efforts to make better use of rainwater that falls over the city.
On Nov. 27, if all goes as planned, the city’s long-awaited proposal to improve the management of storm water is to get its first hearing by the Utilities Committee of the Atlanta City Council. Advocates hope the council will enact it early next year and Mayor Kasim Reed will sign the legislation.
Jim Durrett’s survival of a bicycle crash a poignant story in this year’s PACE awards for clean-air commutes
It is the back story from bicycle-crash survivor Jim Durrett that underscores this year’s PACE Awards, by which the Clean Air Campaign honors top commute programs.
Durrett won the PACE category of GDOT Leadership Award for his use of influence as a community leader to promote clean-air commutes. Later Wednesday, in the just-released edition of the Buckhead CID’s newsletter, Durrett’s column in the Executive Director’s slot began with this compelling sentence:
“Maybe you’ve heard, but I recently went airborne. Unfortunately, it was not in a fun aeronautical way, but in a ‘flew of my bicycle while going 34 mph’ way. You can read the whole story of my accident on our blog.”
Airport concessions: DBE hearing stretches 3 hours as firm fights to retain status that helped win contracts
Mack Wilbourn, a longtime concessionaire at Atlanta’s airport, is to hear within a month if he has become too wealthy for his firm to remain certified as a disadvantaged business enterprise.
Wilbourn’s lawyers spent almost three hours Thursday fighting a ruling by the Federal Aviation Authority, which has determined Wilbourn is too rich for his firm, Mack II, to receive preferential treatment as a DBE. The DBE certification helped Mack II in last year’s competition for lucrative concessions contracts at Atlanta’s airport. The Atlanta City Council authorized the contracts in January.
Wilbourn emerged from the closed-door hearing and declined comment repeatedly as he walked 50 feet to a bank of elevators and stepped into one. Hearings for three other companies that the FAA has ruled ineligible for DBE preferences for concessions contracts they received are scheduled Nov. 14-20.
State halts sale of old Atlanta Farmers Market in real estate market that’s slow – even along BeltLine
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with comments from the Georgia Building Authority.
Georgia has suspended indefinitely its effort to sell the old Atlanta Farmers Market near the BeltLine in southwest Atlanta.
The state cancelled a bid opening for the farmers market that was set for Wednesday afternoon. Bids were due Oct. 26 and the market expressed no interest in the 16.4 acres with 10 buildings and a shed. The cancelled deal is a blow to hopes that redevelopment is coming anytime soon to a gritty industrial area near Murphy Triangle along the BeltLine.
This is the second time in two weeks the state has had to stall the proposed sale of high-interest parcels in Atlanta. The planned bid opening for the historic Olympia building, at Five Points, was delayed for a month or two. A spokesman with the Georgia Building Authority said Oct. 22 that more time was needed to finalize negotiations with Coca-Cola over their sign on the rooftop.
Falcons stadium deal cries out for transparency, public participation, says Common Cause board member
Wyc Orr, a board member of Common Cause of Georgia, is raising questions about the legality of negotiations over a new football stadium and urging for more public involvement in the planned public payments for the proposed $1 billion-plus facility.
In a piece titled, “Open roofed, closed doors,” Orr writes that if news reports are to be believed: “The negotiations, back-and-forth positions, trade-offs, terms and potential agreements have been conducted with only the barest pretense of opportunity for significant input from the public.”
Orr says taxpayers should press the issue with their state lawmakers, who likely will be asked in the 2013 legislative session to authorize a $100 million increase in the borrowing capacity of the Georgia World Congress Center. The increase is likely to be portrayed as the final straw to completing the deal to start construction, he notes.
BeltLine fast-tracks Eastside Trail projects at Historic 4th Ward Park, bike/ped plaza at Ponce City Market
In a request for proposals that are due Wednesday, the Atlanta BeltLine has spelled out an aggressive schedule for building a link from the newly opened Eastside Trail to the Ponce City Market project.
The winning vendor is to start work in December and the project is to be let for construction by May 2014. The bike/ped project may be ready for use when Ponce City Market throws its doors open Ponce de Leon Avenue in 2014 as a vibrant live-work-play development in a resurrected Sears, Roebuck warehouse that’s said to be the largest brick building in the South.
This hot pace for the BeltLine occurs as the board that oversees Atlanta’s largest urban renewal project seeks a president/CEO to replace Brian Leary, whom the board ousted in August. The BeltLine board has called a special meeting Tuesday morning to discuss the recruitment process for its chief executive.
The Atlanta Regional Commission will use a new $150,000 grant from national donors to help four communities create programs intended to make it easier for aging residents to stay in their homes.
The money will enable ARC staffers to work with two neighborhoods in Clayton County, Morrow, Tucker, and Avondale Estates. The goal is to come up with ideas for local governments to adopt that improve infrastructure, programs and policies that support the ARC’s Lifelong Communities initiatives.
ARC has long been focused on the region’s aging population, and ARC Chairman Tad Leithead gave the subject special attention at the ARC’s State of the Region breakfast in October. Leithead included seniors in his vision for the future.
Airport vendor who hosted $1 million fundraiser for Obama at his Midtown home to defend his status as a DBE
An Atlanta airport concessionaire who hosted a $1 million fundraiser for President Obama – at his $1.2 million home in Midtown – is to appear before state officials next week to defend against a federal decision that he is too wealthy for his firm to qualify as a disadvantaged business enterprise.
Mack Wilbourn owns one of the four companies, all of which have airport concessions contracts, that federal authorities have determined are ineligible for a federal preference program intended to bolster small businesses.
Federal authorities contend the companies’ DBE certification may have given them an unfair scoring advantage in the competition for city contracts to run restaurants and sell beverages at the airport. Food and drink is a lucrative business at the world’s busiest passenger airport because passengers have little to do but eat and drink between flights.
Airport contracts heat up: One firm with ties to Mayor Reed may be cut; GDOT sets DBE hearing on another
The Atlanta City Council is poised to consider terminating a $6.6 million contract at Atlanta’s airport that last year was awarded to an associate of Mayor Kasim Reed.
Meanwhile, the state Transportation Department has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 8 on another airport contract – this one for a lucrative vending concession. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered GDOT to conduct hearings into whether long-time airport concessionaire Mack Wilbourn, and three other vendors, qualify for preferential treatment as disadvantaged business enterprise. The FAA has determined the four owners do not qualify as DBEs.
The council’s Transportation Committee is slated to hear Wednesday a resolution to cut the city’s contract with A-National Limousine Service, Inc. Councilwoman Felicia Moore sponsored the measure that also calls for initiating the process of hiring another company to help airport travelers find ground transportation.
As presidential candidates spar over the value of the green economy, a toilet manufacturer in metro Atlanta is garnering acclaim for its green business practices from across the political spectrum.
Toto USA has received commendations from the EPA during the most recent Bush administration; then-Gov. Sonny Perdue; the Brookings Institute; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and – this month – the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. The awards recognize Toto’s environmentally friendly bathroom fixtures and sustainable manufacturing practices.
Bill Strang, senior vice president of Toto’s operations in the Americas, is fond of a catchphrase he employs to sum up Toto’s comprehensive approach to waste management: “There is no silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot.”
Study shows recession hit pupils, teachers in metro Atlanta school districts as hard as rest of Georgia
Despite the relative wealth of schools systems in metro Atlanta, they have not fared much better than the rest of Georgia over the past decade in terms of maintaining their number of teachers and school days, and classroom sizes, a new report shows.
The non-profit Georgia Budget and Policy Institute reports a pattern of what it calls “troubling trends” in funding for the state education system. And the trouble didn’t start with the recession: State cuts in per pupil spending began in 2002 and, since then, spending has fallen by 17.6 percent in inflation-adjusted spending, GBPI reports.
The report clarifies at least part of the challenge facing the five-year strategic plan unveiled in June by the Metro Atlanta Chamber. The plan, Forward Atlanta, says the region must “reinvigorate Pre K through college education” in order to become a “world-class, 21st century metro.”
Atlanta’s development arm has created a loan program that aims to entice buyers to purchase or refinance a home in the city, where persistently falling prices have made homes both affordable to new buyers and hard to refinance for existing owners.
Invest Atlanta’s new “Home Atlanta 4.0” program is available, in certain neighborhoods, for homes with a purchase price of up to $374,268. The limit on household incomes is $87,400 for one person, and $112,350 for a family of three or more.
The new program provides 30-year, fixed-rate private mortgages to buyers, in addition to a 5 percent grant to help the buyer cover costs associated with downpayment and closing, according to a statement from Invest Atlanta.
Northside Drive’s renewal a critical “next step” to bolstering continued revival of Downtown, Midtown
Consider just one aspect of the challenge facing the Georgia Tech study that aims to retool Northside Drive into an urban boulevard that both anchors and promotes the development of Midtown and Downtown:
MARTA doesn’t provide regular bus service on Northside between I-75 and I-20, which is the area encompassed by the study. The region’s largest transit system hasn’t identified anywhere along this stretch of Northside that warrants north-south bus service.
That one fact represents many of the challenges for the Tech study. Northside remains a road to destinations that are located away from Northside Drive, rather than as a route to places that are destinations onto themselves.
Sale of state’s transit site at Atlantic Station fuels interest in new Georgia Tech study of Northside Drive corridor
Public interest in a fresh Georgia Tech study of the Northside Drive corridor in Midtown is being fueled by the proposed sale of state-owned land at Atlantic Station that was purchased as the site of a major transit station to serve northwest metro Atlanta.
The 6.5-acre site was put on the block by the State Road and Tollway Authority, according to several officials who spoke Monday. Gov. Nathan Deal serves as SRTA’s chair. SRTA bought the site when then-Gov. Roy Barnes envisioned it as a transfer hub for future buses to and from Cobb County, commuter rail service, and possibly an Amtrak station.
Tech’s study of Northside Drive may already have influenced city policy. Moments before preliminary results were presented Monday to a crowded room, Atlanta’s transportation planner, Josh Mello, announced the city has decided to include Northside Drive as a transit corridor in the soon-to-be-concluded update of the comprehensive transportation program, Connect Atlanta.
Atlanta to be first major test of state program to spread cost of eco-friendly rehabs of downtown buildings
Atlanta intends to use a fledgling state-authorized financing program to help property owners pay for upgrades to energy and water systems in commercial buildings in downtown Atlanta.
A partner in Atlanta’s new energy effort is Ben Taube, formerly the executive director of Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance. Taube now serves as president of BLT Sustainable Energy Inc., which on June 28 helped organize the company that on Oct. 18 got the city’s green light for a deal – Ygrene Energy Fund, which is affiliated with a California-based company of the same name.
Program advocates have their work cut out. For starters, the Atlanta City Council has yet to create the special tax district in which the financing program will function. Also, little guidance is available from other programs because few, if any, other governments in Georgia have enacted the system since its creation in 2010.
Green milestones in Atlanta, DeKalb: CNG facilities open; building rehab fund formed with goal of $500 million
Atlanta and DeKalb County are passing some significant milestones in their efforts to promote sustainable, green practices when it comes to energy and water.
Both Mayor Kasim Reed and DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis have joined in ribbon-cutting events in recent days to open fueling stations for CNG vehicles, which are fueled by compressed natural gas.
The city’s development arm, Invest Atlanta, today approved amendments to its operating agreement with the Atlanta BeltLine that detail the duties of each of the two partners in the public effort to build the BeltLine.
Invest Atlanta has been working this year to clarify the line between duties it retains and those it delegates to the BeltLine’s board and its day-to-day management team.
The new rules are being enacted two months after Brian Leary, the BeltLine’s former president/CEO, was released as criticism of his oversight escalated. Leary has contended that he was operating within his authority.
Crackdown on property tax scofflaws: Fulton County hiring auditor to target undue homestead exemptions
Fulton County is hiring a company to crack down on homeowners who get tax breaks through homestead exemptions that they’re not legally entitled to receive.
Fulton commissioners intend to hire an auditor on Wednesday whose job is to comb a wide array of records in order to identify and bring to justice all homeowners who receive an undue exemption. The auditor’s final report is due by June 30, 2013.
A basic homestead exemption saves about $1,200 for a home located in Atlanta, and about $600 for a home in unincorporated Fulton County, according to the county’s Board of Assessors. The county provides homestead exemptions to 180,543 parcels, according to bid documents.
Atlanta may as well have been the site of a futurist convention last week. The question now is what local leaders will do with the information.
An expanse of talk included the future of MARTA’s union contract and the fate of other transit providers; questions of regional unity at a time of diminishing federal participation in urban affairs; and the increasing role that some city governments outside Georgia hope to play in helping to revive commercial real estate.
Just about the only topic missing was the old saw about alligators and swamps. One matter still to be resolved is how – and if – the region will frame its response to questions about its future role in the globalizing economy of the 21st century.
Porsche’s ties to Nazis aired before Atlanta City Council renames Henry Ford II Avenue to Porsche Avenue
After considerable deliberation about the heritage the Porsche car company shares with Nazi Germany, the Atlanta City Council today is poised to rename Henry Ford II Avenue to Porsche Avenue.
Councilmembers leveled a line of questions at Porsche’s corporate lawyer during a public hearing last week that went to the heart of the company’s social conscience today. In the end, a majority on the council’s City Utilities Committee endorsed the proposed name change.
“I saw some pictures that were initially disturbing,” Councilmember C.T. Martin said, possibly referring to the myriad of photos available on the Internet that show the father of the company’s founder standing with Adolph Hitler and other Nazi leaders.
Even during a downturn in real estate development, Atlanta can find developments to celebrate.
The Atlanta Regional Commission honored six Developments of Excellence during its annual State of the Region breakfast. All were the result of partnerships, which was a theme explored by the keynote speaker, Bruce Katz, of the Brookings Institute.
“The new mantra in this country, and around the world, is to collaborate,” Katz told an audience estimated to number about 1,000.
MARTA could be the next local government to try to reform pension packages of staff and retired employees in order to remain a going concern.
Transit CEO Beverly Scott told a panel of lawmakers Thursday that MARTA’s salaries should be raised and benefits reduced to prevent long-term fiscal shortfalls: “The cash side needs to come up. However, on the benefit side – as well as medical, as well as some portion of legacy pension – there has to be change.”
Atlanta already has undergone a dramatic pension reform that Mayor Kasim Reed touted Thursday to the commercial real estate industry. The reform shows that Atlanta will do what’s necessary to keep property taxes in check, which is a reason to invest in developments in Atlanta, Reed said at the Global Diversity Summit meeting in Buckhead.
MARTA has delayed a deal with a branch of Atlanta’s development authority for a planned mixed-use development at a transit station near Little Five Points.
MARTA’s board voted Tuesday to hold off on the deal in order to allow its incoming GM/CEO, Keith Parker, time to provide his thoughts on the long-term agreement. Parker’s expected to begin work before the year’s end, following the exit of current CEO Beverly Scott.
The proposed development intends to accomplish many goals – produce extra income for MARTA from ground leases; provide more lower cost homes for senior citizens; and promote denser development around a transit station in hopes of improving air quality.
Metro Atlanta in new global economy: ARC speaker could spark ideas to sharpen region’s competitive edge
A renowned policy advisor who specializes on a topic central to Atlanta’s self-identity – urban competitiveness – will be in Atlanta Friday at to present a program that could be a game-changer for the region’s economy.
“Look, I have engaged Atlanta in the past, and Atlanta has enormous advantages: It is a city that has shown it can reinvent itself for the next thing,” said Bruce Katz, of the Brookings Institute. “But this moment is different from other inflection points. This one of those moments in time that really is different.”
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper: State’s reservoir plan dismisses conservation measures, overstates future demand
The new report on water resource management from Chattahoochee Riverkeeper presses the point that the state could get a bigger bang for its buck with conservation than it will from its plan to build reservoirs.
As Riverkeeper promised in July, the report provides specific recommendations to reduce the region’s water footprint through a combination of approaches. The report presents three suggestions for the state to implement – none of them involving the construction of water reservoirs, which is a mainstay of the state’s approach to meeting the state’s reported needs for future water resources.
The report also contends that the region’s water needs have been vastly overstated by the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District. For example, the report suggests the region won’t add 1.9 million jobs and 2.7 million residents by 2035, as forecast by planners in 2009.
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper presents water conservation awards as Florida governor calls for more Georgia water
While Florida Gov. Rick Scott is grabbing the latest headlines about water woes and oysters, some solutions to the problem of reckless consumption of water were celebrated Thursday at the TOTO USA toilet manufacturing plant in Morrow.
TOTO hosted an awards ceremony at which Chattahoochee Riverkeeper presented its 2012 Best in Class awards to three winners: Atlanta; Atlanta’s airport; and TOTO USA.
The awards recognized successful efforts to reduce water consumption. The conservation steps go to the heart of the oyster problem in Florida, where some Floridians contend the oysters are dwindling in size and number partly because of a shortage of fresh water flowing into Apalachicola Bay from the combined Chattahoochee and Flint rivers.
New installation of public art in Cascade strikes balance in honoring local leaders both past, present
In a city that struggles to strike a balance in honoring its leaders, past and present, a new installation of public art in southwest Atlanta promises to hit the right notes.
The bronze and stainless steel sculpture is the creation of nationally renowned artist Ayokunle Odeleye, of Stone Mountain. The sculpture, “Chi Wara Sundial Lantern,” is designed to function as a sundial by day and a lantern by night. The names of community leaders from Cascade Heights, in southwest Atlanta, are inscribed in markers at each point of the dial.
The dedication ceremony set for Saturday at 10 a.m. has flown under the radar, especially when compared to recent commemorations that have stirred controversy – the naming of John Portman Boulevard and the installation of a statue honoring Andy Young, to name just two.
There’s no reason to think the proposed Walmart in Buckhead will disappear just because the Atlanta City Council slowed the project by refusing to amend the city’s long-range development plan to allow it to be built as planned.
For starters, Walmart has a long history of winning its way. The site’s too valuable for its current use as low-rent apartments, given its proximity to two highways and a MARTA station. And the development team, with lots of experience navigating urban projects, has invested two years in assembling a $90 million development.
Doug Dillard on Tuesday expressed an interesting outlook on the future of the site where the Walmart would have been built. The veteran development attorney suggested the time has arrived to double down on residential development in this section of Piedmont Road.
Privatizing MARTA jobs no cure-all for costs; federal law ensures union will endure even with private vendors
At least one significant point is lacking from the general conversation about “privatizing MARTA” as a way to maintain transit service while reducing its cost.
The point is a labor agreement between MARTA and the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local No. 732. The union represents 64 percent of MARTA’s staff, which is larger than 4,500 workers, according to the recent management audit by KPMG.
Even if some or all of these jobs were privatized, federal law requires that existing rights and benefits of union jobs continue into jobs created by any private companies hired by MARTA. The notion that labor negotiations – and the higher personnel costs that the audit suggests stem from collective bargaining – would dissipate in a scenario of out-sourced jobs simply isn’t accurate.
Atlanta BeltLine: Sale of old Atlanta Farmer’s Market in BeltLine corridor will reveal its post-recession cachet
Georgia is selling the old Atlanta Farmer’s Market, a 15.4-acre tract with 11 scenic old buildings that’s located in the heart of the Atlanta BeltLine in southwest Atlanta.
The deal promises to showcase the real estate market’s attitude toward redeveloping in a gritty BeltLine neighborhood in this soft real estate climate.
Before the recession, the old market would have been perfectly poised for redevelopment. It’s in Murphy Triangle, a faded industrial area that was just beginning to see an influx of art studios and restaurants as entrepreneurs got in before big-money BeltLine developers arrived.
The pending creation of a 1-acre park off Loridans Drive in Buckhead is the latest step in the effort to build the Georgia 400 Trail, the linear park that’s to connect North Buckhead with the Peachtree Creek spur of the Atlanta BeltLine.
The Atlanta City Council is finalizing the paperwork to acquire the land from the Fulton County/Atlanta Land Bank Authority, Inc. The cost to the city will be about $25,000, to cover the legal fees associated with the transaction, according to legislation pending before the council.
A portion of the Lowery and Stevens Family Cemetery may be on the property and, if it is, the future park will contain one of the oldest cemeteries in the city, according to research by the Buckhead Heritage Society.
It may not seem like much, just a group of elementary school kids doing a science project on a bright morning in early autumn.
But someday, the event will take on greater meaning than it may have had for the pupils today. Someday, these youngsters at Atlanta’s Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary will recall the time when adults wearing uniforms helped them paint rain barrels, and how those barrels became the focus of a year-long project for each of them and their classmates.
The rain barrels will be used to teach about managing water resources. Given that their generation will hear a lot about water management, Thursday’s event was a pleasant way for these youngsters to get started.
An internal city audit of rates charged for Atlanta’s water and sewer services presents findings that show Mayor Kasim Reed should be able to fulfill his vow to not seek a rate hike before 2016.
The audit also confirms the widely held opinion that Atlanta has the highest water and sewer rates in the country.
The findings comprised the first of two pieces of good news for consumers. A federal court last week approved a 13-year extension of the city’s timeline to complete required upgrades to the sewer system. The approval of the extension, to 2027, was forecast in a May 31 press release from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
MARTA seeks to hire federal lobbyist as furor over its use of consultants has subsided at state Capitol
MARTA is seeking to hire lobbyists to help it win federal transportation funding from Congress.
Terms of the contract estimate the cost at $750,000 for a two-year base, with options for three one-year renewals. The board that oversees MARTA voted to issue a request for proposals from companies interested in the work.
MARTA hasn’t been in hot water over its lobbying contracts in two years, not since the former head of the Legislature’s MARTA oversight committee, former state Rep. Jill Chambers, lost her bid for reelection to the House.
Have an app for that? Make certain Atlanta has enough air waves to serve mobile wireless users, group says
Everyone in metro Atlanta who has eyes on the new iPhone 5 has grand expectations that it will improve their lives, or at least be a lot of fun.
The only problem is that, eventually, there won’t be enough capacity to transmit all that data through the air waves. Everyone already knows what happens when the mobile spectrum is overloaded – slow Internet service and bumped calls.
The issue is critical to a surprisingly diverse group of people. These groups include those who use mobile devices, and those who write the apps – applications – that make money for inventors or are given away to serve a some purpose.
Fresh from remarks at RNC, state AG Sam Olens to speak in Atlanta on impact of federal health care law
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens is slated to address business leaders in Atlanta next week on the future of health care and how it affects the business community.
Olens has been on a hot streak of late, having addressed the Republican National Convention on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the health care law. Olens’ fiery remarks were deemed “mostly true” by ajc.com, which conducted a fact-check shortly after Olens’ presentation with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Olens, who is the state’s highest elected official to back Mitt Romney’s bid for president, will share a podium Sept. 25 with other national figures in a panel titled: “The Future of Health Care and Impact on Your Business.” The Georgia Chamber of Commerce is hosting the forum.
Atlanta Hawks Foundation grant to provide ray of hope for young players in a tough intown neighborhood
In some Atlanta neighborhoods, a $50,000 grant to fix some basketball courts isn’t that big a deal.
This isn’t one of those neighborhoods.
The corridor along a road called Boulevard, which passes Atlanta Medical Center just east of Downtown, is a rare place in Atlanta. It is a community of severe poverty surrounded by neighborhoods of comfortable homes. Boulevard is a place where the grant from the Atlanta Hawks Foundation that’s to be announced Wednesday is expected to make a big difference in the lives of its young men and women.
The Atlanta City Council voted Monday to defer its decision on a proposed Walmart in Buckhead that is to anchor a big retail/residential development.
The council sent the matter back to committee to continue negotiations with the developer. The vote is a defeat for the city’s planning department, which recommended approval, and a victory for Buckhead residents who oppose the project as it’s currently designed.
The council’s vote means the end isn’t in sight for a debate that, at some level, pits the city’s master development plan against job creation – in this case, 600 permanent jobs and 300 temporary construction jobs, according to the developer.
The Atlanta City Council is slated to vote Monday on a double-edged development proposal that would be a no-brainer in just about any other neighborhood in the city.
On one hand, many Buckhead residents wish that just about anything but a Walmart were in the works for a site along Piedmont Road. On the other hand, Atlanta desperately needs the expected taxes from the improved property and retail sales, not to mention 300 temporary construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs when the retail center opens.
Atlanta Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd summed up her impasse this way: “I’m caught on both sides of this. We can sit here and say, ‘Boo for Walmart!’, [but] 600 permanent jobs. Six hundred permanent jobs. And on a MARTA train where people can ride MARTA and get to the jobs. … This whole Walmart thing is a dilemma across the country.”
This story has been updated with additional information about ARC’s staff lobbyists.
Whither now, Atlanta Regional Commission?
That is the conversation that began Thursday, when ARC’s board met to start figuring out what’s next for the 10-county coordinating agency, whose heritage dates to 1947.
Two things appear to be certain: There’s not a consensus for jumping back into the fray over transportation; and there is a consensus for doing something to preserve ARC’s relevance by improving relations with Gov. Nathan Deal and the state Legislature.
In addition, no objections were raised during a general discussion of ARC increasing its role in areas cited by ARC Chairman Tad Leithead: Aging, arts, education, criminal justice, economic development.
A new era of “streamlined” development regulation has taken effect in metro Atlanta and throughout Georgia, meaning that big proposed projects are able to move more quickly through government review and into construction.
The new rules roll out as official proposals for three big, residential/commercial projects have been submitted since July. Each of them – two in Buckhead and one in Sandy Springs (inside I-285) – is politically sensitive because each is a high impact project that has the potential to create jobs and tax revenues.
Brazilian college students heading to GSU in program that benefits U.S. enrollments & Brazilian economy
STEM students from Brazil will study at Georgia State University, following GSU’s selection by Brazil to participate in the country’s new effort to strengthen its domestic economy by better educating its young people.
Brazil sent 591 college students abroad in January in the first wave of its attempt to reduce the country’s skills shortage in the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math. Brazil’s government plans to eliminate financial barriers to higher education by paying all costs to send about 100,000 students abroad for a year, 20,000 of them to the U.S. The students are to return home to finish studies and start careers in Brazil.
GSU expects to benefit from the international exposure its involvement will bring, according to its announcement last week. Brazil expects to benefit from a workforce that can better compete internationally.
The fate of a proposed 18-acre retail/residential project in Buckhead near the Lindbergh MARTA station, possibly including a Walmart, is now completely in the hands of the city of Atlanta.
The project has been moving in fits and starts through the various review processes for about a year. The Atlanta Regional Commission handed the project to Mayor Kasim Reed in an Aug. 28 letter that said the ARC doesn’t have purview: The project isn’t big enough to qualify as a “development of regional impact.”
The development is proposed by a duo that has retooled the face of several urban neighborhoods – Sembler Co. and Jeff Fuqua. The total square footage being proposed, 400,000 square feet, is roughly a third the size of Lenox Square.
Sen. Vincent Fort and human rights advocate Joe Beasley took the MARTA board to task Monday, urging it to maintain its independence from Gov. Nathan Deal and the Legislature regarding MARTA’s fiscal management and selection of a new CEO/GM.
As Fort was calling for MARTA’s critics to be as watchful of the state Transportation Department as they are of the transit system, MARTA board Chairman Frederick Daniels asked him to stop his remarks, in observance of the regular two-minute time limit for public comments. Fort refused to step down, contending that MARTA’s board always has provided elected officials whatever time they need to comment, because they represent constituents.
Beasley previously had urged the board to follow its own conscience in selecting a CEO/GM to succeed Beverly Scott, who is leaving at yearend. Beasley urged the board to ignore comments from state lawmakers, who have been quoted in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution opining about who should be named to the region’s top transit job.
MARTA preparing for future expansion while at crossroads of its leadership, funding by region & nation
Beverly Scott will leave MARTA in a posture of preparing for a day when the transit system again will be laying rails and expanding bus service.
MARTA on Monday will convene the first of three public meetings to gather public response to the I-20 East Transit Initiative. Almost before the responses can be analyzed, Scott will have departed as MARTA’s CEO/GM – a move she has announced will occur at yearend.
Such planning seems hopeful, especially in light of the region’s sound rejection of the proposed sales and the roiling debate over the role of federal funding for transit and transportation. Scott maintains that MARTA wasn’t planning its future around the sales tax plan.
Top officials from the city of Atlanta traveled to Griffin Thursday and came back with a better sense of how to move forward with a proposal to increase tax rates on blighted properties in hopes of eradicating such public nuisances.
“We’ll continue brainstorming and looking at what we can do,” Atlanta Councilmember Joyce Sheperd said late Thursday. “It’s more complicated than we’d thought.”
Cities across Georgia are looking for ways to get a handle on blighted properties, and Griffin’s ordinances are models to follow, according to the Georgia Municipal Association.
The notion that Gwinnett County is home to a population that’s predominately white and affluent is as out-of-date as the idea that two painted water towers along I-85 in Norcross still proclaim: “Success Lives Here.”
The 40-year-old towers were torn down two years ago. In the decade before their demolition, 40,000 whites had moved out of Gwinnett. Now, the county’s population is predominately non-white, and less wealthy and less educated than it was in 2000.
The demographic shift in Gwinnett speaks to the broader question of “Who are We?” That was the topic Wednesday, at the quarterly meeting of the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum.
A good summer for sea turtle nests on Jekyll Island, critters on eco-friendly concrete tested at Savannah’s port
Georgia’s coast has reported good news about marine growth at the port of Savannah and turtle nesting on Jekyll Island.
On Jekyll Island, 197 turtle nests have been discovered this nesting season. That’s the second-highest number of nests tracked since 2003, when 204 nests were found, according to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Almost 8,200 hatchlings have crawled into the sea.
In Savannah, a new type of concrete that was tested by Israeli scientists has provided a home for both plants and tiny animals. On regular concrete, barnacles are just about the only life form that grow, according to port officials.
Three central messages about the foreclosure crisis in metro Atlanta emerged from a recent gathering of policy makers and community advocates.
First, jobs are needed to enable homeowners to have the resources to stabilize their mortgages. Second, government services shouldn’t be taken for granted for the foreseeable future, because cities and counties have to cut budgets to offset the loss of property taxes collected on falling property values.
The third message was unspoken, but evident among those who attended the third annual meeting of Piece by Piece: A Regional Foreclosure Initiative. The message is this: The community still has the energy to combat an intractable problem.
Just as Labor Day marks the end of summer, it is the historic start of the region’s season of political stump speeches, fall festivals, high school football and other outdoor events.
One of the region’s emerging places to escape reality and indulge in flights of whimsy is Art on the Atlanta BeltLine, which bills itself as Atlanta’s largest temporary public art exhibit. This year’s event begins Saturday, Sept. 8, and concludes Nov. 4.
This year’s Art on the Atlanta BeltLine program will provide a timeline by which some major issues will be determined – including the expected creation of new rules by the Atlanta City Council for managing the development of the BeltLine and other taxpayer-funded urban renewal programs overseen by the city’s development arm, Invest Atlanta.
Top HUD official “disappointed” by Georgia’s handling of its $99 million share of National Mortgage Settlement
The deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development said Thursday in Atlanta that Georgia did not spend its $99.4 million share of the $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement as the federal government had intended.
Maurice Jones, who is HUD’s second most senior official, said he was “disappointed in what I’ve seen in Georgia.” Jones was the keynote speaker at a the annual meeting of, “Piece by Piece: A Regional Foreclosure Initiative,” which was held at the Carter Center.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell asked Jones what the federal government was doing to respond to Georgia’s decision. Jones responded that the administration had three approaches to states that, like Georgia, had used the money for purposes other than for mortgage resolution.
Atlanta airport concessionaire to close BlackBerry stores, replace them with shops for Apple iPhones, etc
Atlanta’s airport is poised to give BlackBerry the boot and open its doors to Apple.
The sale of Blackberry smart phones has fallen so dramatically that an airport concessionaire plans to replace its two Blackberry shops with Apple resellers. Only one other airport in the country has an Apple reseller, according to legislation pending before the Atlanta City Council. The other airport wasn’t identified.
The change in product line was requested by a joint-venture company whose prime partner failed to win one of the airport concessions contracts the city council awarded earlier this year. Miami-based Areas USA had submitted a proposal to manage food and beverage outlets at the airport, in addition to the retail spaces it now runs with its joint-venture partner, ARM, or Atlanta Retail Management.
Fulton County seeking lobbyist for state Capitol, likely to fight proposed Milton County in 2013 Legislature
Fulton County is seeking to hire an external lobbying firm to represent the county commission at the state Capitol, and a key part of the job likely will be to oppose the creation of Milton County.
Friday is the deadline for proposals from firms that want the job. A company probably will be hired before Thanksgiving, based on past timelines. One person attended a pre-proposal conference on Aug. 22, according to the sign-in sheet.
The job looks like heavy lifting. All the tasks cited in the county’s prospectus involve fending off challenges to the county’s current authority, trying to address traffic congestion, and influencing expected legislation to consolidate MARTA and other metro transit providers.
Once upon a time, a conversation about “MARTA by the Numbers” dwelled on the number of passengers served by X number of buses and Y number of trains.
How quaint that seems in today’s era, when so many issues seem to be rendered into component parts that are quantified.
MARTA has tracked its own economic impact throughout Georgia. The results show MARTA’s economic impact to Georgia in 2010 was $2.2 billion. MARTA tracked its expenditures in each House and Senate district from 2007 through 2011, and those results are intriguing.
Bridge reopening in Atlanta reminds of city’s botched 1994 infrastructure program that was to have done job
The reopening of Mitchell Street Bridge Viaduct in Downtown Atlanta is a gentle reminder of how slip-ups in 1994 delayed the project for almost two decades.
The bridge was slated to be replaced with proceeds of a $149.9 bond referendum that was to have been on the ballot in March 1994. The money was to repair the city’s infrastructure before the 1996 Olympic Games.
Atlanta botched some technical aspects of the bond proposal, and Sandy Springs attorney Bob Proctor convinced a Fulton County judge to order that the bonds couldn’t be sold even if voters approved the referendum. By the time the bond was repackaged and the referendum passed, in June instead of March, it was too late to fix the bridge before the Games and the job was deferred.
Airport vending contract goes to Coke and a company FAA ordered stripped of its DBE status by early October
A joint venture business comprised of a subsidiary of The Coca Cola Co. and a minority partner who is too wealthy – according to the federal government – to qualify as a disadvantaged business enterprise was awarded a seven-year contract to operate vending machines throughout Atlanta’s airport.
Mack II is the disadvantaged business enterprise partner in a deal approved Monday by the Atlanta City Council. The deal is for 17 vending locations to sell soft drinks, bottled water and snacks in all concourses, the Atrium, north baggage area, and car rental area.
Mack II is owned by Mack Wilbourn, who has had concessions contracts at Atlanta’s airport for decades. The FAA has ordered the state to strip Wilbourn’s company of its DBE status by early October. The prime vendor is Coca Cola Refreshments USA, Inc., which Hoover’s reports is a Coke subsidiary formerly known as Coca Cola Enterprises, a bottler and distributor.
Clayton County elections: Incumbents defeated for anti-transit positions, says Friends of Clayton Transit
The dynamic politics of transit and transportation in metro Atlanta played out yet again Wednesday, this time in terms of the run-off elections held in Clayton County.
A statement released this afternoon by Friends of Clayton Transit has the headline: “Anti-MARTA incumbents lose in Clayton County: Chairman Bell throws transit under the bus; loses election.”
Clayton Chairman Eldrin Bell and Commissioner Wole Ralph both lost their bids for reelection. Friends of Clayton Transit, which says it is a transit advocacy group, linked the defeats to the incumbents’ position on transit – Bell for opposing a request to put a referendum on the MARTA 1 percent sales tax on the November ballot; and Wole for his vote to end C-Tran bus service in 2010.
MARTA will tweak schedules on almost a third of its bus routes, starting Saturday, in an effort to improve adherence to schedules and enhance service in a few areas.
That news probably isn’t the most compelling of the day, but it is the latest indication of how life will continue for the foreseeable future after voters in metro Atlanta rejected the proposed transit tax.
Likewise, the state DOT announced last week that four teams have been put on the shortlist to build toll lanes along I-75 in Cobb and Cherokee counties. In addition, the DOT continues with the repaving of the northwestern segment of I-285.
Atlanta’s development arm exerted control over BeltLine through revised bylaws months before CEO ousted
Five months before Brian Leary was released as president/CEO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., the agency’s bylaws were changed in ways that expanded the autonomy and authority of his position to spend public money.
This change is minor compared to other, much more significant revisions of the bylaws. Taken as a whole, the revised bylaws represent a fundamental shift in the governance of the BeltLine – Atlanta’s primary urban renewal project.
The BeltLine is now governed by a board that’s appointed by the city and its development arm, Invest Atlanta. Two boards approved the restated bylaws: The board that oversees Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., voted for the revisions in March; and the board that oversees Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, voted for them in April.
Atlanta’s troubled permitting process, fee structure to get advice from new panel appointed by Mayor Reed today
The effort by the Council for Quality Growth to reform Atlanta’s building permit process has taken less than a year to achieve a large degree of success.
Last fall, the council urged Atlanta to create a technical advisory committee to work with city officials on the permitting process. The idea was for the committee to recommend the cost for various fees, and provide feedback to city officials on matters including ways to improve permitting for future homes and commercial buildings, as well as remodeling jobs at existing buildings.
The Atlanta City Council created the task force on June 18. Today, Mayor Kasim Reed will notify the council of nine individuals he has appointed to the Office of Buildings Technical Advisory Committee.
BeltLine CEO leaving after city audit that angered mayor, factored in failure of region’s transportation sales tax
BeltLine CEO Brian Leary will leave the organization by the end of the month and COO Lisa Gordon will take over immediately as the BeltLine’s interim leader, Atlanta BeltLine Inc. board president John Somerhalder announced Friday afternoon.
Leary has been under increasing pressure since at least May for expenses made on behalf of the BeltLine. Atlanta City Auditor Leslie Ward released a comprehensive audit in late May that raised major questions about the manner in which BeltLine managers were spending taxpayer dollars – including an executive retreat, staff dinner, and pension benefits that exceed city standards.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is said to have been outraged by the findings of the audit. Reed reportedly predicted the findings would be used by critics of the proposed transportation sales tax to “prove” that government wastes money. Some critics did just that, as part of their successful campaign to defeat the proposed sales tax.
Layoffs up this year in metro Atlanta compared to 2011, but still pale next to 2002 for city and 1998 for state
A glance at a few state reports about layoffs in metro Atlanta over the past decade shows some interesting trends.
The number of layoffs reported to the state Labor Department is trending up this year, compared to 2011. This year’s increase, through mid August, bucks a four-year trend of fewer layoffs over the course of each year going back to the start of the recession.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s cities aren’t necessarily the places to find work. Just six of Georgia’s 14 metropolitan areas have a lower unemployment rate than the state average of 9.6 percent, according to the Labor Department. Atlanta’s one of the six, with an unemployment rate of 9.3 percent.
Gov. Deal appoints three county chairmen to GRTA, which faces funding shortfall after sales tax vote
Gov. Nathan Deal has put his imprint on GRTA, and the agency’s board is to meet Wednesday for two “first times:” First time since voters rejected the proposed regional transportation sales tax, and first since Deal appointed to the board the chairs of three county commissions who helped shape the project list for the transportation tax.
Deal seems to be generally satisfied with the agency’s direction. The governor this year has reappointed the executive director and four of the board’s 15 members – all of whom serve at the will of the governor.
Still, GRTA’s future is unclear, if not as an agency than certainly as a service provider. The agency needs close to $200 million over the next decade to maintain its Xpress bus service, according to figures discussed last summer when the project list for the sales tax was cobbled together.
A renewed push is underway in Atlanta to harvest rainwater and improve the management of storm water in an era of sustained drought.
Advocates say a regional rainwater harvesting program could produce more than 20 million gallons of water a day. That represents about 16 percent of metro Atlanta’s net consumptive use of about 125 million gallons a day, according to the latest figures maintained by the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Two efforts are ramping up: The drafting of potential new storm water regulations in Atlanta that would apply to all new homes, and to certain additions to existing homes and commercial properties; And, a renewed push throughout the region to encourage property owners to harvest rainwater.
The jockeying for concessions contracts at Atlanta’s airport has gone on for almost a year and no final resolution of the overall situation is in sight.
The contract for ground shuttle services is again on the table. Contracts for food and drink concessionaires may again be on the table, following intervention by the FAA – which contends that four winning firms weren’t eligible for preferences they received in the selection process.
The contract for currency exchange was resolved in May, but only after months of debate and after bloggers had complained that only 16 currencies were available from the initial winning vendor – too few for their needs, judging by their comments.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has to decide the fate of an alcohol license at the airport that’s been requested by a business affiliated with a key ally – a business that has just lost a battle with the FAA over the firm’s contract to run restaurants at the airport.
The city’s License Review Board on Tuesday approved and sent to the mayor an alcohol license requested by Atlanta Restaurant Partners. The company is a spinoff of a firm founded in 1994 by Daniel Halpern, who co-chaired Reed’s mayoral campaign; Brook Jackson Edmond, daughter of the late Mayor Maynard Jackson; and the late mayor.
The FAA on Thursday took steps that could result in Atlanta Restaurant Partners losing all of its airport locations. The FAA directed the state Department of Transportation to strip the company of its certification as an “Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise” – a certification that helped the company win the airport contract.
The ARC’s new regional population report, issued today, reveals one stunning statistic amidst the otherwise expected figures about the region’s sluggish growth rate in the post-recession era.
Atlanta is the only one of the 12 geographic areas cited in the report that had more people moving in each of the past two years than had moved in during an average year during the boom times of 1990 to 2010.
That statement needs to be qualified immediately: Atlanta’s population number may change, depending on the outcome of the city’s appeal of the 2010 Census. But for now, Atlanta is in a statistically sunny place.
Global magazine cites region’s “notoriously dreadful traffic” in report on voters’ rejection of sales tax
It didn’t take long for the message of metro Atlanta’s rejection of the proposed sales tax for transportation to reach an international audience.
This week’s print edition of “The Economist” magazine features a full-length story titled: “A Penny Saved: Georgia’s ambitious infrastructure plans go down in flames.”
While other major publications have reported on the July 31 sales tax referenda, this story stings. The Economist’s worldwide circulation is almost 1.5 million, according to the magazine’s website account of figures by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has raised more than $446,000 this year and has just over $1 million in cash in his campaign account, according to his recent campaign disclosure report.
Ten contributors named the City of Atlanta as their employer. They include the city’s newly appointed chief operating officer; two commissioners and a former commissioner; and the mayor’s two communications officers. The CEO of the Atlanta Beltline contributed, as did a project manager with the city’s development arm, Invest Atlanta.
Major expenses reported this year include a birthday party/fundraiser in June that cost more than $12,000; almost $14,000 for two fundraising consultants; more than $11,000 for official travel; and $981 to three florists for constituent recognition.
Weird real estate market evident in defaults, dwindling construction jobs, even a PhD dissertation on lending
What does a strip retail center in Norcross have in common with a four-diamond hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans and a fancy shopping mall near Caesars in Atlantic City?
All three appear in an ad for foreclosed properties that ran Aug. 1 in “The Wall Street Journal.” They’re part of an online auction of more than $1 billion worth of non-performing notes.
This juxtaposition could be just another weird aspect of life after the recession. Or, it would be just weird if it weren’t such a clear sign of lingering malaise in commercial real estate in metro Atlanta and other markets.
FAA continues investigation of airport concessions contracts; GDOT closes its probe into DBE compliance
Federal authorities said Friday they are continuing their investigation into the recently issued concessions contracts at Atlanta’s airport even though a related probe conducted by the state has been closed.
The Federal Aviation Administration has determined that some vendors who won concessions contracts do not qualify as disadvantaged business enterprises, according to letters the FAA sent to the city, MARTA and Georgia Department of Transportation. For the city to provide these companies with a preference because of their “incorrect” claim to be DBEs, “could have impacted the selection process,” the letters state.
GDOT, which oversees the state’s DBE certification program that was used by the city, looked into the matter and has closed its investigation after making some administrative changes to bring its certification program into compliance with federal standards, according to a letter sent by GDOT to the FAA. The letter was released by Mayor Kasim Reed’s office.
New bus service in Columbus, new bridges in SE Ga. among upgrades voters funded by approving sales tax
Three regions in Georgia are getting ready to start building roads and bridges, and improving public transit, because voters approved a proposed 1 percent sales tax that was on the ballot Tuesday.
Consequently, $1.8 billion worth of projects are to be completed over the next decade in the special tax districts surrounding Augusta, Columbus and Dublin. The amount of approved construction is 1/10th of the $18 billion that had been proposed in all 12 of the special tax districts.
One of two transit projects approved by voters is to provide intercity bus service between Downtown Columbus and three sites in the Columbus/Muscogee area. The second is to help pay for maintaining and operating Augusta Public Transit.
Here’s a snapshot of the three districts, according to information culled from the Secretary of State’s Elections Division and the Georgia Department of Transportation:
Election day was business as usual for some top officials with the state’s Transportation Department.
They were cutting the ribbon on a new overpass in Savannah while voters were deciding the fate of a proposed sales tax to raise $18 billion for future road and transit projects across the state. Metro Atlanta voters were casting ballots on a $6.14 billion proposal.
The GDOT crowd in Savannah Tuesday morning included Commissioner Keith Golden; board member Jay Shaw, a Lakeland resident who represents the coastal area; and Todd Long, a deputy commissioner who helped craft all 12 project lists that are to be funded with the sales tax proposal on the July 31 ballot.
The cost of two recent campaigns illustrates the stunning amount of money that advocates of the proposed transportation sales tax have raised, and spent, to educate and influence voters. The political battle culminates Tuesday.
One-time Republican presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann ran her entire campaign with about the same amount of contributions that has been raised for the campaign for metro Atlanta’s transportation sales tax.
When Jim Martin pushed Saxby Chambliss into a runoff in the 2008 campaign for U.S. Senate, Martin spent about $1 million less than the sum that’s been spent to wage the sales tax campaign in just 10 of Georgia’s 159 counties.
The list of contributions by individuals to the $6.5 million campaign fund for the transportation sales tax is interesting – in terms of who gave, and who didn’t – in a campaign built upon corporate contributions.
Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson is the only one of the 21 members of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable who contributed under his or her own name – $500, on March 16.
Individual contributors such as Johnson account for slightly more than $140,000 of the $6.5 million the campaign expects to raise. The remainder of the campaign fund was provided by about 360 business entities, according to campaign financial disclosures.
A look at voters – Fulton, DeKalb rank in size; Cobb, Gwinnett plus two can prevail over outcome of sales tax vote
Campaign financial disclosures filed by advocates of the transportation sales tax indicate that polls of voter sentiment have been conducted once a quarter since June 2011.
Hill Research, of Auburn Ala., has been paid a total of $289,512 on dates in 2011 in June, September and December, and this year the larger payments were made in March and June. No payments were reported for July in the disclosure released Monday by Citizens for Transportation Mobility.
Though SaportaReport.com can’t offer the depth of insights presumably contained in Hill’s reports, it can provide a review of some basic information about voters who are the subject of a sales tax campaign with a budget in excess of $10 million – $8.5 million for the persuasion campaign, and an education campaign that reports raising more than $2 million.
The Atlanta Regional Commission will help handle some duties of project management for the $8.5 billion construction program the region would embark upon if voters on July 31 approve the proposed transportation sales tax.
The task would put the region’s metropolitan planning organization in the position of helping to develop the projects as intended by the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable, the panel of 21 elected officials that approved the $6.14 billion regional project list in October.
During discussions last autumn, roundtable members expressed concern that they would lose their ability to maintain accountability for the list after their work on the roundtable was complete.
ARC chair refutes lawmakers who criticized project list of transportation sales tax as political, transit heavy
The chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission returned fire today on state legislators who’ve criticized the list of projects to be built if voters approve the proposed transportation sales tax.
“To suggest a better list is out there … is simply unfair to the incredible work that’s been done,” said Tad Leithead, ARC’s chair. “No stone has been left unturned.”
Leithead did not identify the target of his remarks. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leaders Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) led a group of five lawmakers who called during an event at the Capitol for voters to reject the proposed 1 percent sales tax.