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Column: Atlanta architect John Portman to receive Four Pillar Award

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, May 24, 2013

Internationally renowned architect and developer John Portman will receive the prestigious 2013 Four Pillar Award from the Council for Quality Growth.

Portman will receive the award on Oct. 10 at a dinner at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta — a trend-setting hotel that he designed — with its unique indoor atrium. It’s a building that launched the Hyatt hotel chain and a building that gave Portman international fame.

But to describe Portman as just an architect or developer is only providing two sides of a multifaceted artist and entrepreneur.

“Most Atlantans look to John Portman as the creator of our skyline, but few know his artistry and creation of places extends across the globe,” said Michael Paris, president and CEO of the Council for Quality Growth. “Most importantly, Mr. Portman, along with our city’s most historic leaders, is responsible for the success we have achieved as a diverse and welcoming mecca for all.”

By last count, Portman has redeveloped 17 blocks in downtown Atlanta with the development of Peachtree Center. He is founder and chairman of Portman Holdings, the real estate development firm; John Portman & Associates, the architectural and engineering firm; and AmericasMart, the world’s largest trade mart with 7.5 million square feet.

Portman also pioneered the role of architect as developer — being able to lead the development of large real estate projects that allowed him to have control of their design.

He has designed and/or developed projects in Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Dallas, Warsaw, Los Angeles, Detroit and Brussels, among others.

In addition to all those accomplishments, Portman has been an accomplished painter, sculptor and designer of furniture and interior design.

“Every time I look back, I don’t know how the hell I did it,” Portman said in a phone interview on May 21. “I’ve been here a long time. I’m 88 years old. It’s all about never, never, never stopping. I have to do something. My curiosity is boundless. I feel like I’m still a young man mentally, and certainly from a spiritual point of view.”

Portman also said he was “humbled” to receive such a recognition in his hometown of Atlanta — an award that means more than those he’s received from institutions around the world.

“I have a love for this city. It’s part of me,” Portman said. “I have always felt the city could be a great city. And I believe that no city is a great city unless one has a great heart. I think Atlanta has the beginning of a great heart. Better times are ahead, not behind us.”

Fanning: New normal is baloney

Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning is not willing to accept that we’re a nation destined to have sluggish economic growth.

“The idea of a new normal, I think that’s total baloney,” Fanning said during a conversation with Gary Price, managing partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Atlanta office. “We have got to restore America’s financial integrity.”

Fanning was speaking at the annual meeting of the Georgia Council on Economic Education at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Price is the outgoing chairman of the organization. Marie Gooding, vice president and chief operating officer of the Atlanta Fed, is the incoming chair.

Fanning believes that a key to the nation’s economic resurgence is having a national energy policy.

“By 2035, we could be the epicenter, the largest energy provider in the world,” Fanning said. “That’s an outstanding opportunity we all have. It could add $5 trillion in the U.S. economy; 1 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) growth; and 3 million new jobs.”

Neil Shorthouse honored

The Georgia Council on Economic Education also awarded its top recognition — the William J. VanLandingham Commitment to Education Award — to Neil Shorthouse, founder of Communities in Schools.

Russ Hardin, president of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, introduced Shorthouse, first reading a letter of congratulations from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

“Communities in Schools is now the largest high school dropout prevention program in our country,” Hardin said. “It was started in Atlanta (40 years ago) with more than 1 million children served in the United States. It’s hard to measure the impact that Neil has had.”

Hardin said introducing Shorthouse was an opportunity to put his “mouth where his money is” — saying the Woodruff foundations have invested $25 million in the organization over the years.

In accepting the award, Shorthouse showed no signs of stopping.

“Children dropping out of school is the No. 1 problem we have in this state,” Shorthouse said. “Fortunately it is a problem with a solution.”

Shorthouse went on to say that about 90 percent of Georgia’s students are in public schools.

“We have got to make our public schools successful,” he said. “It’s a problem with a solution. It’s a community development issue.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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