By Maria Saporta

Five candidates have been named as finalists to become president and CEO of the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. (ABI) — three from Atlanta and two from outside the state.

The Atlanta BeltLine executive committee selected the five finalists on April 10 in a closed session, but the names were not made public until eight days later because they had to make sure to touch all the bases, according to people involved in the search. The Korn/Ferry International firm assisted in the search on a pro bono basis.

The five finalists are as follows: Lisa Gordon, chief operating officer for the Atlanta BeltLine who has been serving as the interim CEO since August; Tad Leithhead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, Paul Morris, former deputy secretary of transit for the North Carolina Department of Transportation; Aundra “Drew” Wallace, executive director of the Detroit Land Bank Authority; and Tom Weyandt, senior policy advisor for transportation for the City of Atlanta.

“The Atlanta BeltLine continues to transform Atlanta and serves as a national model for the revitalization of urban areas,” said Mayor Kasim Reed. “The recent opening and extraordinary success of the Eastside Trail has demonstrated how excited Atlantans are for us to keep moving this project forward.”

John Somerhalder, CEO of AGL Resources who chairs the board of Atlanta BeltLine Inc., said the search committee focused on people who had broad experience and understood multi-faceted relationship between trails, parks, transportation and development.

“We were really happy with the quality of the candidates — both inside and outside of Atlanta,” Somerhalder said Thursday afternoon. The plan is to set up more in-depth interviews with the five candidates in the near future.

“We really would like to wrap this up in the next month or so,” Somerhalder said.

Reed said the task of the CEO will be to continue the success that the BeltLine already has enjoyed.

“We have already made great strides with the opening of four parks, nearly six miles of trails, advancing the environmental process for transit, new affordable housing, public art, and more than $1 billion in new private real estate development,” Reed said.

Somerhalder agreed.

“Each of the finalists has the necessary skills and experience to continue the project’s momentum and success, and the board looks forward to making a final selection,” Somerhalder said. “ Each of these candidates can work with the board, critical partners of the organization and diverse stakeholders to continue to move Atlanta forward.”

Here is more information on the five finalists:

Lisa Gordon
Lisa Gordon

Lisa Gordon has a 23-year career in city management and public/private projects.  For the past three years, she has been the chief operating officer of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. and, since August 2012, has lead the organization as CEO.  Previously, Gordon served as an officer for the Office of Enterprise Assets Management for the City of Atlanta during Mayor Shirley Franklin’s administration. Gordon’s previous experience includes three years as City Manager for East Point, Georgia. From 1990 to 2000 she held increasingly responsible positions in Broward County Fl, rising to assistant to the county manager.  From 2000 to 2004 she worked for the City of Austin, Texas, serving as assistant city manager from 2001 to 2004. She holds an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University, a Masters in Public Administration from Syracuse and a Masters in Accounting from Nova Southeastern University. Gordon is also a Certified Public Accountant and a graduate of Leadership Atlanta.

Tad Leithead
Tad Leithead

Tad Leithead has spent his career in private and public sector roles. Since 2010, he has served as chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission which coordinates the transportation, water and other infrastructure and social programs for the 10-county Atlanta region. He also provides consulting services to a number of companies and institutions in the Atlanta area focusing on business development, governmental affairs and community relations. Leithead’s previous experience includes seven years as senior vice president of development for Cousins Properties and earlier as a partner with Childress Klein Properties, two Atlanta-based private sector real estate developers. In these roles, Leithead was a team member involved in the development of projects in the office, multifamily residential, retail and hospitality sectors.  He has also served as chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District. Leithead holds an undergraduate degree from Washington & Lee University.

Paul Morris
Paul Morris

Paul Morris has spent almost 30 years in consulting and line management roles focusing on transportation, urban regeneration and development, natural resource management, public parks and the development of corporate and institutional facilities throughout the United States and Canada. Most recently, Morris was deputy secretary for transit for the North Carolina Department of Transportation where he was responsible for the department’s multi-modal divisions as well as a number of land use and transportation initiatives. Previous to that role, he worked with a number of consulting and investment firms including Parsons Brinkerhoff, Cherokee Investment Partners and his own firm, McKeever/Morris Inc.  He has received numerous awards and recognition from groups including the State of North Carolina, the Waterfront Center, 1000 Friends of Oregon, National League of Cities, U.S. Department of Transportation and the Army Corps of Engineers.  Morris received his undergraduate degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon.

Aundra "Drew" Wallace
Aundra “Drew” Wallace
Aundra “Drew” Wallace

Drew Wallace has provided leadership in a number of urban and economic development and financial roles throughout his career.  Currently, he is the executive director for the Detroit Land Bank Authority, a quasi-governmental corporate body formed to assist in the effort to return abandoned, foreclosed and vacant properties to productive use within the City of Detroit. Prior to being named to this position, Wallace was the senior vice president for real estate development and living, a senior leadership role within the North Carolina Community Development Initiative, a public private partnership.  Earlier in his career, Wallace spent nine years working in the Miami-Dade County community in a number of increasingly responsible positions including deputy director for the Office of Community and Economic Development and president and CEO for the Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust. He also served as the chief financial officer for the South Florida Super Bowl XXXIII Host Committee. Wallace holds an undergraduate degree from Georgia Southern University and his Masters of Public Administration from Clark Atlanta University.

Tom Weyandt
Tom Weyandt

Tom Weyandt is a well-known citizen of Atlanta having served in leadership roles supporting public policy making, urban planning, transportation and housing among many other issues.  Currently, he is the senior policy advisor for transportation in Mayor Reed’s office for the City of Atlanta. In this role, he serves as the mayor’s principal liaison with all relevant transportation agencies in the region. Weyandt is actively involved in projects including the Atlanta Streetcar and the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority. Previously, Weyandt served as director of comprehensive planning for the Atlanta Regional Commission. Among his earlier career roles, he was a senior associate and executive director of Research Atlanta at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. He also served as director of transportation for the Atlanta Paralympic Organizing Committee and commissioner of planning and development for the City of Atlanta.  Weyandt received his undergraduate degree in international affairs from Georgetown University.

At the executive committee meeting April 10,  Somerhalder said the process had been pretty straight forward with the committee interviewing nine candidates before selecting the finalists.

Mayor Reed did challenge the current BeltLine staff to try to acquire one more key piece of right-of-way along the 22-mile redevelopment corridor. Currently, 67 percent of the right-of-way is under control for the project.

The mayor said he would like the project to control at least three-fourths of the right-of-way as quickly as possible.

“That way a new leader (of Atlanta BeltLine Inc.) can come in and hit the ground running,” Reed said, adding that it would be a “huge” selling point to potential funders to be able to say that the city owns three-fourths of the corridor.

“We will put the highest priority it,” Somerhalder told the mayor.

Atlanta BeltLine Inc., a governmental entity connected to the City of Atlanta, is a multi-faceted organization that is redeveloping a 22-mile ring of mostly abandoned railroad tracks around the central city. The redevelopment project includes multi-purpose trails, new residential, retail and office developments as well as new parks interspersed throughout the corridor.

Plans also call for a streetcar to run along segments of the route as the funding comes in and as the corridor is developed.

The new director would be ABI’s third since Terri Montague was named as its first executive in July 2006. She resigned in 2009. She was succeeded by Brian Leary, who resigned in August after controversial expenditures made with taxpayer dollars.

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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