Atlanta BeltLine: North gets parks, trails; South gets affordable housing, according to little known report

By David Pendered

Southwest Atlanta has received less than 6 percent of the $126.8 million invested in parks and trails by the Atlanta BeltLine, according to a little known report that’s now one year old.

Mayor Kasim Reed rode a bike on the Eastside Trail during its dedication. File/Credit: Christopher T. Martin

Mayor Kasim Reed rode a bike on the Eastside Trail during its dedication. File/Credit: Christopher T. Martin

The BeltLine has provided public amenities, such as trails and parks, in the north and has provided most of its affordable housing in south Atlanta, according to the report commissioned by the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership.

The report was not distributed to the general public following its submission in September 2013. The report’s title is, “An Atlanta BeltLine for All: Equitable Development Assessment.”

The purpose of the report was to determine the extent to which the BeltLine is fulfilling its social contract with Atlanta residents. Atlanta’s city council and school board have dedicated a portion of the city’s property taxes to help pay for the development of the BeltLine’s planned network of trails, transit and parks.

This context may address the city’s intense interest in forging ahead with the 2.5 stretch of planned BeltLine in the southwest corridor.

The BeltLine’s southwest area has received 5.5 percent of the total funds invested in BeltLine parks and trails, according to figures in the report. The actual investment is $7 million out of a total investment, as of the date of the report, of $126.8 million.

Construction of the BeltLine's southwest corridor is to entail the removal of hundreds of trees and, possibly, the condemnation of property. File/credit: Maria Saporta

Construction of the BeltLine’s southwest corridor is to entail the removal of hundreds of trees and, possibly, the condemnation of property. File/credit: Maria Saporta

Atlanta is preparing to chop down hundreds of trees to make way for two aspects of the BeltLine’s southwest corridor: A multipurpose trail, and a transit line that hasn’t been designed or funded.

In addition, Atlanta has taken steps to condemn property in the corridor, if deals can’t be reached with landowners, in order to obligate $18 million in federal funds before a Sept. 30 deadline. Atlanta will lose the TIGER V grant if the funds aren’t obligated by that time, according to terms of the grant.

The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership sponsored the study and the Ford Foundation paid for the work by consultants Nexus Research Group and Davidson Consulting. The purpose was to evaluate progress made over five years on the BeltLine’s Equitable Development Plan. The Atlanta City Council created the plan in 2008, after public outcry over three significant acquisitions for the BeltLine in and adjacent to northeast Atlanta.

At the time, as investments elsewhere along the BeltLine lagged, the BeltLine acquired:

  • 66 acres along a 4.5-mile section that passes beside Piedmont Park; the BeltLine paid $66 million to Gwinnett County investor Wayne Mason.
  • The BeltLine acquired the former Bellwood Quarry in Atlanta's westside for $34.2 million, but has not devised development plans or funding. Credit:

    The BeltLine acquired the former Bellwood Quarry in Atlanta’s westside for $34.2 million, but has not devised development plans or funding. Credit:

    21 acres near Grant Park.

  • 16 acres that became part of the Historic Old Fourth Ward Park.

As envisioned in legislation the council adopted, the Equitable Development Plan intended to: “Ensure balanced and inclusive development across geographic sections of the BeltLine, as measured over time.”

The report observes that the BeltLine has been cast before the public as a way to address an enormous amount of Atlanta’s historic inequities.

Atlanta is laced with “race, place and class.” Income disparity in Atlanta is greater than in Iran, Nigeria and Swaziland, as well as being greater than in New Orleans, Miami and Washington, according to the report.

The report evaluated the equity of investments in a number of areas. The findings include the following:

  • Most affordable homes funded by the BeltLine are in south Atlanta. Credit: "An Atlanta BeltLine for All"

    Most affordable homes funded by the BeltLine are in south Atlanta. Click on the image for a larger view. Credit: “An Atlanta BeltLine for All”

    Parks – Of $107.6 million invested, $50.6 million went to the Old Fourth Ward Park near the future Ponce City Market. Another big investment north of I-20 was $34.2 million for the Westside Reservoir Park, but there are no definite plans for how it will be developed or when it will open to the public.

  • Trails – Of $19.2 million invested, $12.9 million has been invested in the northeast and northside study areas and $6.3 million has been invested in southwest and southeast Atlanta.
  • Affordable housing – Of 131 units funded by the BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund, 117 units were funded in Atlanta’s southeast and southwest quadrants.

There’s also the entire issue of jobs. The great recession helped ensure that job creation lagged everyone’s expectations. But the BeltLine may not have done all it can to promote the workforce. The report contends:

  • Jobs – The plan to create jobs has been hampered by, “a lack of true coordination between the two organizations around jobs,” referring to BeltLine Partnership and Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. That said, the report indicates that the recession and other challenges may have put beyond reach the original goals for the BeltLine to create over its lifetime 30,000 permanent and 48,000 one-year construction jobs.


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

12 replies
  1. JWK says:

    If I may ask, what percentage of the total funding mentioned in the report came from Atlanta property taxes? Secondly, I would ask if you had 100 million to invest where would you put it, Old Fourth Ward (near Ponce) or in the Southwest corridor? If you wanted a more immediate return on your investment, where do you think more small businesses and new property tax paying residents would tend to congregate. To drive higher revenues for investment and additional funding (bond referendums) you have to make certain strategic decisions. Most people don’t wants 100’s of millions of dollars invested in parks and hiking trails just for the sake of niceties if their is a strong economic development play that will help insure growth and prosperity in the long term.Report

  2. KDH says:

    Contrary to popular opinion in Georgia, SW Atlanta pays their fair share of property taxes and beyond.  There may not be as much of a quick ROI on the southside in terms of new property development, but let’s stop using the outdated myth that SW Atlanta is fully of lazy Black people who don’t want to pay their taxes or support prosperity in the long term.  It’s time to develop a new angle.Report

  3. leadbelly says:

    In regards to the funds spent on the fourth ward park…..a $50 million investment of public and private money resulting in  over $430 million in private investment around it for an ROI north of 8. Those properties were built/renovated on land that was either abandoned, underutilized, or not even on the tax roles. Perhaps your writing should have included an analysis of how much TAD funds are or will be thrown off by these developments that can then be used to develop projects in the rest of the City.Report

  4. JWK says:

    If it were your money…where would you put it? How long do you think it would take the Southwest corridor to generate on ROI like OFW? This is not a public service project, it is an economic development project. How long has Fort Mac been stuck in the ditch? Plenty of private money going in to Aerotropolis.Report

  5. dwpendered
    dwpendered says:

    Thank you for your close read and comment.
    You raise a great point regarding the amount of details to include. In this case, I stopped with the identification of sponsor and funding source. I’ll answer your question here and insert the name of consultants into the story.
    Two consultants served on the project: Nexus Research Group, and Davidson Consulting. Details of their companies are provided on page 2 of their report. There’s a link to the full report in the story.
    Best regards,

  6. dwpendered
    dwpendered says:

    Hello. Thank you for your close read and comment.
    You raise a great point regarding the percentage of total funding for the project from Atlanta property taxes.
    In response, I’ll note that this report did not identify the various sources of funding for BeltLine’s public amenities. The BeltLine website reports that the project is funded through the BeltLine tax allocation district, $146 million from three city sources (parks bonds, watershed, and capital improvements), more than $25 million in federal funds, and contributions from other partners.
    The BeltLine website also provides links to audited financials for 2011 (the latest available on the site) and the 2013 annual report.

    The address of this page is:
    Best regards,

  7. JM says:

    This is all a bunch of divisive garbage content unfortunately.
    Money means nothing as a metric. Land on the north side costs more, a lot more. Using money as a metric is like using my SAT score to evaluate my basketball skills.
    Instead, miles of trail built, acres of park built are relevant measures. And not talked about.
    In summary any reader of this column can safely ignore it and the report in their entirety.Report

  8. Burroughston Broch says:

    Reports like this are quietly filed away without becoming public because they don’t validate the political objectives of the organization that commissioned the report.
    Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.Report

  9. LGJ says:

    Please also share in future editorials the inequity in spending comparisons of Fulton County where North Fulton parks facilities and improvements are substantially fewer than what has been built and maintained in South Fulton.  Unfortunate you would use one sliver of information without the proper analysis and data interpretation of land cost etc… A more fair and unbiased piece would include all dollars spent on parks/recreation in South Atlanta and South Fulton vs North Atlanta and North Fulton over the last 10 years or so (prior to new cities). Might yield a different picture.Report

  10. atlman says:

    It is a vicious cycle, however. The areas that receive the most investment will generally receive the businesses and the high income development, which will produce tax revenue, which will lead to more political clout which in turn will drive more investment. This is precisely how the north/south gap developed in the first place in Fulton, DeKalb, and now increasingly Cobb and Gwinnett. Cobb is just now getting around to investing in south Cobb in order to fight in an increase in crime rates, for example. Otherwise they would simply let it wither on the vine and continue to build up north Cobb as they have for decades. 
    While the streetcar has been much criticized, it has generated a level of economic development south of Buckhead/North Atlanta that hasn’t been seen since, well, white flight. The Braves leaving and letting that area be replaced with Georgia State will spur another round. But beyond that, what is there? Tyler Perry making Fort Gillem into a movie studio. 
    If south Atlanta keeps getting bypassed for stuff like this, it will always be south Atlanta. And that should be an issue for the politicians that live in the city, because developing north Atlanta generally winds up benefiting Cobb and Gwinnett more than Atlanta. Meanwhile, develop middle and south Atlanta, and most of the economic benefit actually stays in the city.Report


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