By Maria Saporta
After almost no activity during Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s first term in office, a sense of urgency has gripped City Hall when it comes to selling real estate and spending Invest Atlanta’s Westside TAD (Tax Allocation District) dollars.
What is not totally understood is: What’s the rush?
During the Nov. 19th Invest Atlanta board meeting, several multi-million dollar grants of Westside TAD dollars were granted – which led me to ask: How much is left?
When I posted this story Monday evening, officials at Invest Atlanta said they couldn’t give me a number until Tuesday. At 10:21 a.m. Tuesday morning, Invest Atlanta’s Ernestine Garey sent me an email saying that the “unrestricted funds in the Westside TAD total $14.74 million.”
As you can tell in the next few paragraphs, my back-of-the-envelope estimates before I received that email were not that far off.
As of June 2013, a city report delivered to Fulton County Commissioner Emma Darnell, who sits on Invest Atlanta’s board, showed that there was about $53 million in the Westside TAD. That TAD includes Vine City and English Avenue – the communities directly impacted by the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.
During the negotiations for a new Falcons stadium, the city committed $15 million of the Westside TAD to be invested in the community as matching dollars to $15 million pledge made by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
The city also committed $8 million of Westside TAD dollars to the Better Buildings Challenge.
Those two investments dropped the Westside bank balance down to $30 million.
Then at the last Invest Atlanta board meeting, the group approved a $4.4 million grant to Post Properties to develop a 407-unit apartment building across Centennial Olympic Park from the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the World of Coca-Cola.
The board also approved $4.2 million to Bolton Atlanta LLC and the Gallman Development Group for a hotel, apartment and retail project in the Castleberry community.
The board also approved a $275,000 grant to APD Urban Planning Management to serve as an “implementation agent” for the Westside TAD.
During the same meeting, the Invest Atlanta board approved two other grants that were not part of the Westside TAD.
A $1.5 million Economic Opportunity Fund grant helped lure WorldPay’s corporate headquarters to intown Atlanta. -continuing the trend of high-tech companies moving to more urban and walkable communities in search of younger educated associates.
Also, K&K Soul Restaurant is receiving a grant of $172,000 from the Downtown Facad Improvement Grant Program.
Adding everything up, and there is an estimated $20 million left in the Westside TAD. Plus, insiders have said that Post Properties is likely to receive another $4 million at a future Invest Atlanta board meeting – bringing that total to less than $16 million.
So let me ask some questions.
What is the rush?
Why are we spending so much money at such a fast pace?
Why are we giving multi-million dollar grants to well-established developers to develop in already successful downtown districts?
Why did some significant grants awarded in the Westside community go to individuals who have been irresponsible with past funds?
Could the city have been more strategic with its bank account if it had made more targeted grants – spacing them out and giving the market enough time to respond to the major project investments being made in the area (the new Falcons stadium, the new attractions, Georgia State, Friendship Baptist Church)?
To be fair, during most of the mayor’s first term, we were in a deep recession, and there was not much of an appetite to finance new real estate investments in Atlanta for several years. Now, one could argue that Invest Atlanta and the city are trying to ride the current wave of investor confidence in the city.
On the other hand, one could argue that it would have made sense to wait and see how much of the development wave could have been financed privately without having to use precious public TAD funds.
Courtney Knight, managing director of redevelopment for Invest Atlanta, said through a spokeswoman that it was late last year that the Community Benefits and Strategic Implementation plans were finalized.
They “served as the catalyst for key projects within the Westside TAD to be funded, and aggressive work has been done to ensure a diversity of projects will be initiated in coming months through various programs,” Knight said.
Meanwhile, just as there has been a rapid draw-down of Westside TAD dollars, Mayor Reed has been moving full-speed ahead with plans to sell off as much of the city’s real estate as he can.
Again, this raises questions.
What’s the rush?
Are we being as strategic as we should be?
Are we working in Atlanta’s long-term interest when we sell our major land holdings within a short period of time?
Personally, I do believe that it is in the city’s best interest to sell Underground Atlanta. And from what I understand, there is a serious buyer with financial means who has a real vision for the property. It would have preferable if that process had been more public, but that is not this mayor’s style.
But all the other real estate deals that are sitting on the mayor’s desk only raise more questions.
Turner Field. Why is the community being shut out. Why is Fulton County, which has one-third interest in the site, being shut out?
Civic Center. Will the city deviate from its behind-closed-doors process and let the community participate in reviewing the entries to its Requests for Qualifications?
Fort McPherson: Regular readers already know how I feel about that one. The city doesn’t even own those 488 acres, and the mayor is still calling the shots.
We are being told that selling most of the property is a good thing when actually the reverse is true. The city would be a much smarter strategic investor if it phased in the development of Fort McPherson, allowing the property to increase in value rather than selling most of it at a bargain basement price.
So I ask again. What’s the rush? What’s the urgency?
Let’s act. But first, let’s act smart.
David Pendered, managing editor of SaportaReport, contributed to this report.