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Sustainable Communities Thought Leadership

Seven organizations receive technical assistance through ULI Atlanta’s Center for Leadership

Sheba Ross, HKS Design and ULI Atlanta mTAP Chair (2020)

Leadership is a team sport. There has been a shift in the past decade where much momentum has been gained in the realm of action in comparison to just planning. And the reason is because initiatives have been propelled to action, not by solitary thinkers, but by teams of diverse experts who have diminished the distance between ‘think’ and ‘do’. It is evident that programs like the Center For Leadership (CFL) by the Urban Land Institute’s Atlanta District Council (ULI Atlanta) are a primary contributor to this momentum. One of the vital facets of CFL is the Mini Technical Assistance Panel (mTAP) where the participants are assigned to smaller groups for their capstone project. When 34 multi-disciplinary emerging leaders, hand-picked in diligence, pool their talent and expertise to advise on a land-use challenges posed by public agencies and nonprofit organizations, the outcome is compelling. You can read a testimonial and success story from a client who stated that it “changed the way they looked at their property and formed a foundation for its development”.

For the Class of 2020, I am chairing the mTAP program which cultivates my urban design and story-telling lens as Vice-President of the architecture firm, HKS. Marc Brambrut is the vice-chair, who brings a different proficiency of real estate to the table, even as he practices at Fairfield Residential as a Vice-President of Development. mTAPs seek geographically diverse organizations and received interest from close to 20 project leaders. Twelve of those projects were shortlisted and the clients were invited to ‘pitch’ to the class by sharing both the profile of the land-use challenge and the anticipated impact of the technical assistance. The class then voted for their preferred projects through which 7 projects were selected that will receive advice and recommendations from the teams. 

The teams have been matched with CFL Alumni Advisors to ensure alignment with ULI’s mission of providing leadership in the responsible land use and in creating and sustaining thriving communities.  The current advisors are: Amber A. Pelot (Alston & Bird LLP), Joseph R. Stryker (Ware Malcomb), Andrew Pearson (Seven Oaks Company, LLC), Kenwin M. Hayes, Sr (Atlanta Housing Authority), Mason Ailstock (The University Financing Foundation), Ryan Mills (CohnReznick) and Sara Haas (Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.)

These seven selected projects can be characterized by distinct action words that describe the possibilities of a program like the mTAP and speak to the power of making actionable plans:


The seven projects are described in detail below – and the class will embark on these projects from now until April 2020. The projects range in scope from activating a transit-oriented development at a MARTA station, to more place-based project aimed at re-connecting a Southwest neighborhood (Mechanicsville) to the rest of Atlanta. 




The charge for this project is to explore the development potential and define the future of the Five Points Station redevelopment. The streets and blocks around Five Points are experiencing significant investment and revival. This study will determine how best to make this a station that works exceptionally well for transit riders, creates a more vital place in the city through its relationship to the surrounding buildings and streets, creates TOD opportunities and is a refined place of civic architecture.

Client: Marsha Anderson Bomar, MARTA

  1. STRANGER THINGS MALL REDEVELOPMENT: Gwinnett Place Mall Re-imagined

While this project draws its title from hosting the set for the ‘Stranger Things’ show, it not strange that within the spectrum of commercial real estate, no property type is confronting as many profound challenges as regional malls. Hence, the CID has requested the mTAP to re-imagine the famed Gwinnett Place Mall by developing an innovative framework that researches the future of retail and provides a matrix of uses that will position the study area for a resurgence.  

Client: Joe Allen, Gwinnett Place CID


In order to address the lack of public spaces in Downtown Tucker, the CID is requesting recommendations for how best to activate alleys and initiate a more walkable, accessible, and pedestrian-friendly city center. From green infrastructure considerations to public art and branding possibilities, this project provides a distinct platform for advice and prospects. 

Client: Beth Ganga, Tucker-Northlake Community Improvement District

  1. BROOKHAVEN ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT: Validate potential at Apple Valley

The City of Brookhaven has approached the mTAP to review the viability of establishing an entertainment zone on Apple Valley Road, define the best and highest use, and outline the likely economic impact that such a zone may have on the City. The City is dedicated to capitalizing its distinctive assets such as the MARTA station, the buildings on Apple Valley Road, and the already robust business scene on Dresden Drive in the creation of this entertainment district. 

Client: Shirlynn Brownell, Economic Development Director, City of Brookhaven

  1. STIMULATING MAIN STREET: FCS Historic South Atlanta Redevelopment

The task is to identify obstacles and measure the feasibility of a small mixed-use, mixed-income, commercial corridor for Historic South Atlanta by identifying land use options, inter district mobility and connectivity to transit. FCS is a ‘repeat Client’ and has successfully adopted and acted upon several recommendations from the CFL class of previous years. With the approaching South Side BeltLine development, FCS is feeling the urgency to acquire and develop as much affordable commercial property within their targeted neighborhoods and is leaning on the mTAP program for guidance.

Client: Jeff Delp, FCS Ministries

  1. ATLANTA’S NEXT UNICORN NEIGHBORHOOD: Integration of Mechanicsville

The essence of this project is to recommend ideas to spur development, particularly with the public landowners, in a way that will revive & re-connect Mechanicsville to the rest of Atlanta. While positioned just minutes from downtown, Mechanicsville is largely disconnected from adjacent neighborhoods by two major highways and an active industrial rail-line. The neighborhood is seeking a Life-Cycle approach to explore ideas for dynamic development and renewal.  

Client: Senya Zaitsev, Sunny ETC, Tommy Cooper, and Jason Dozier 

  1. SMYRNA EMERSON CENTER: Converting Vision to Reality

The opportunity is to envision, and master plan a vacant and underutilized property near The Battery, The Galleria and Cumberland mall that is uniquely made up of one parcel in Smyrna’s jurisdiction and another in unincorporated Cobb County’s jurisdiction. The property has several challenges to tackle with respect to parcel geometry, site topography, easements, future improvements to I-285 and the Spring Road Livable Centers Initiative Plan. 

Client: Jason Gaines, Cobb County Community Development Agency and Russell Martin, City of Smyrna

The start of the new decade launched the program and the teams are already busy thinking big, evaluating scenarios and crafting the future for the seven projects that will enhance their communities. 

The mTAP recommendations will be released publicly in May 2020. Stay tuned for updates!


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1 Comment

  1. Jeff Murray (CFL 2018) January 14, 2020 10:45 pm

    Great job Sheba! I am particularly interested in seeing the reccomendations for Smyrna and Mechanicsville.Report


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